I used to have big dreams.
I was going to be a movie star. So, despite evidence to the contrary in my mirror, I went to Hollywood to give it a go. Faced with actually having to go to auditions, I got a massive case of “No, I don’t think so,” and decided to be a screenwriter instead.
Between customers, I scribbled dialogue on paper napkins at Langer’s Deli, where I worked as a waitress. That ambition crumbled a few months later when a hit movie came out with almost the exact same [true] story I was writing. A real screenwriter wouldn’t have given up at that point, but I wasn’t a real screenwriter. What was I? I didn’t know. All I knew was I didn’t want to be a waitress anymore.
So the universe answered my prayer: I got fired.
I took a magazine writing class and, with a beat-up, used electric typewriter, began faithfully writing 2500 words a day, as prescribed by my teacher. I was going to be a Freelance Writer.
The words didn’t come easily at first, but we were told not to worry about that, just to write whatever came out — and keep writing, no matter what, until we reached 2500 words. I would often write, “847 words to go,” like bottles of beer on the wall, just to fill up space. To save on paper, I filled up every square inch. Reading those crowded pages later, I could see plenty of drivel, but the exercise worked. More and more of it was surprisingly good. There were glimmers of interesting ideas, snippets of clear, graceful writing, and sometimes, whole stories that weren’t bad at all.
And then I gave up.
I don’t even remember why. It may have been financial; I had run out of savings and needed to find another waitressing job. But now that I think of it, that wasn’t it. We had reached the stage in class where we were expected to submit actual queries to actual magazines. It was a put-up-or-shut-up moment. I shut up and dropped out of class.
Are you starting to see a pattern here? My family was. My son asked me, “Mom, why are you always trying new things? Nothing ever works.”
“I’m playing the percentages,” I said in a fake-confident voice. “If I keep trying, eventually something’s got to stick.”
Then, I asked my mother for a loan and went to radio school. And it stuck. Thank GOD.
But to be honest, for the first year I worked in radio I was sure it wasn’t for me. I was a terrible street reporter, too petrified to approach people and ask questions, and I couldn’t ad lib for shit because my short-term memory was so bad. Fortunately, I had a good voice and spoke clearly. I lucked into an anchor job at a tiny, all-news station in Las Vegas. I was no journalist but dammit, I could read out loud.
Surrounded by real reporters, I felt completely inadequate. The only reason I stuck with it was this: I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to waitressing [even though it paid more]. After about a year, I fell in love with radio and lived happily ever after—no wait, that was a different story. I did fall in love with radio, but you know, life happens.
A few years later, I decided to write a nonfiction book based on an incident that had happened in my family when I was a teenager. I wrote five chapters and sent them to a big agent, who wrote back that he wanted to read more. I never replied.
I gave up another dream.
The point of all this is that pattern I mentioned earlier: each time I hit a roadblock, I gave up and jumped to something else—until I had no choice. Why? I call it Flakiness, but Steve Pressfield, author of The War of Art, calls it Resistance — with a capital ‘R’:
How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, sucumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don’t do that thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to? Resistance defeats us. If tomorrow morning by some stroke of magic every dazed and benighted soul woke up with the power to take the first step toward pursuing his or her dreams, every shrink in the directory would be out of business. Prisons would stand empty. The alcohol and tobacco industries would collapse, along with the junk food, cosmetic surgery, and infotainment businesses, not to mention pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and the medical profession from top to bottom. Domestic abuse would become extinct, as would addiction, obesity, migraine headaches, road rage, and dandruff.
Wow. Really makes you think about how much of our economy is dependent on people NOT going for their dreams. Depressing, isn’t it? Pressfield’s entire book is on the subject of this one unbelievably persistant trait that apparently all humans share. [Btw, there’s a great interview with Pressfield on Lateral Action. You should read it.]
After seeing all the self-destructive ways people resist following their dreams, I don’t feel so bad about my own. I used to joke that my radio career was the world’s most profitable avoidance technique. But I’m still resisting my dreams, and—
—hey, wait a minute. I’m writing, aren’t I? NOT resisting! Woohoo!
I am SO getting that book.
What’s your most profitable avoidance technique? Or not profitable — how do you resist your dreams? I want to know! Tell me in the comments below.
Photo credit: ucumari