Looking Upward

Copyright 1995, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

This article originally appeared in Science Fiction & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter # 175, April 1996.

The writing life is a difficult one, strewn with disappointments and setbacks. Thus it is easy to wind up focussing on one's difficulties and problems. Failures and obstacles fill one's consciousness, until one winds up thinking primarily about the negative and dreading possible failures. However by doing so one loses out on a wide range of opportunities.

I discovered this recently at a con I was attending. I was sitting in the con suite, talking about con-going and career building with a writer who had made the big jump to pro. This person started talking about which cons I should go to in order to really improve my chances of getting published. Immediately I responded in the negative, saying there was no way I could go to those cons because they were too far away, too expensive, etc, etc. Only afterward I realized that I was looking at things from the wrong direction. Instead of seeing the obstacles to my going as insurmountable and saying that I couldn't possibly follow this person's advice, I should have been asking how I could overcome the obstacles and go.

Much of our potential for success is tied up in how we approach difficulties. To cite a historical example, look at the different approaches to problems which were taken by the two commanders at Trafalgar. To Villaneuve, problems were reasons to make excuses for inaction. By contrast, Lord Nelson saw problems as challenges to be overcome in order to accomplish his goals. Consider whose fleet came out the winner on October 21, 1805, and decide which form of leadership served better.

Looking at problems as challenges instead of insurmountable roadblocks can also open one's mind to other possibilities in dealing with the problem. One of the most effective ways of controlling a person is to limit the options that the person perceives as being open to him or her. If the person believes that only one or two choices exist (such as "surrender and do things our way or be crushed"), the person is constrained to making a choice between those two options. Suddenly things loom so huge as to be overwhelming, even hopeless. There is no other choice except to give in or meet a fate too terrible to be named. Such a person may well remain totally oblivious to other possible ways of dealing with the situation.

To go back to my own example, I was thinking in terms of either paying my entire way or not going to cons at all. Either I managed to get there on my own, pay for a whole hotel room all by myself and cover all my expenses by myself, or I stayed home. Those were the only two choices I believed to exist. But later I realized that there were other ways to go to a con. For instance I could take a bus or a train to the con. If that was too expensive, I could connect with other fans along the route to the con and get a ride. Even if they lived farther along the route than I did, it wouldn't be quite so much of a strain on my car or my driving abilities as having to drive the entire way from home to the con. Hotel costs could be diminished by sharing a room with friends. It would take some work to overcome my conditioning that anything other than going it alone on my own resources was mooching or opening myself to certain disaster because "only those with bad intentions will help someone outside their family," but if I could do it, it would open me to a wider range of possibilities.

This points out another danger of focussing on obstacles -- we often wind up creating non-existant dangers in our minds. Making our decisions on the basis of what awful things might possibly happen may give us a feeling of safety, but at the price of possibilities. This doesn't mean that one should disregard all danger, only that we need to distinguish real danger from the dangers that our own mind creates because it might be out there and discreate the latter. We don't go heedlessly walking in the street because we might be struck by traffic, but if we spend so much time worrying about the truck which might be out there and might hit us that we become afraid to venture outside at all, we've crossed the border between real danger and created danger. Now it's time to discreate the imaginary truck, put the danger back into perspective and be able to partake of the possibilities that are opened to us by going outside.

When one is surrounded by problems and disappointments, it is easy to become focussed on them and believe that it is impossible to change one's situation, or that change is only possible through the narrowest of channels, means so unreachable as to be nonexistant. If one can break free of those mental shackles, whole ranges of possibilities open. Stop looking down at what can't be done. Look upward and see all the ways that you can change your situation.

Copyright 1997, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

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