Letting go of outcomes and loving what is
I have never known what that meant before-- let go of outcomes. I have spent countless hours reading self-help books, listening to inspirational lectures, sitting in church, talking to my therapist wondering what the f*&% everyone was talking about when they say "you have to release outcomes", "expectations", and "give it up to your higher power". What were they even talking about?
Outcomes, expectations, and destinations are how things move forward, right? You set a goal, you break it into steps; the outcome is the gift, the brass ring, for all your hard work. If you don't receive the brass ring, then you didn't correctly follow the steps and you fail. This is what I thought. Life was life following a recipe -- if your cake falls flat it's because you over-mixed.
I get hung up on outcomes. And the outcomes are what leads me to disappointment -- because the acknowledgement I crave is rarely met with equal enthusiasm. The things I associated with success -- giving live readings, being published, gaining followers or fans, winning medals or awards -- often left me wondering "Is that all there is?" -- cue Peggy Lee. If it didn't feel awesome when I reached my outcome -- did that mean I was working for the wrong outcome?
One day, I am talking to my kids about being a good loser while they were playing video games. My youngest was angry because he hadn't won a single round of MarioKart that day. I explained "Isn't the whole point that we played MarioKart together today. Wasn't playing fun?" And then I had this moment where my brain clicked -- that's what they mean by releasing outcomes! The joy of the experience is more valuable than the outcome.
The Process is where the real joy happens.
It's a hard habit to break -- focusing on the results over the experience. When I begin a project I envision myself at the end. When I write a story, I often know the beginning and the ending before I even start. When I set a goal, I imagine what I will look like when I reach it -- often 50 lbs thinner, but still. Telling myself that I needed to release that vision and enjoy myself in the meantime seemed a little lame. Why would I start something that's difficult and stress-filled if I am not going to be victorious and skinny when I reach the end?
Seeing beyond the outcome of writing is difficult. Writers need to publish to be read. It's a two part process -- to write and to be read. If no one reads it, then what was the point? And that dark cloud hangs over the process. I hate that cloud. I am trying to create and this cynical teen hangs around the corner on their phone grumbling, "I mean who cares about anything you write anyway." Thanks, Riley. Now get out of my office.
Fortunately, I started noticing that I was more drawn to activities because I enjoyed the experience. I love to cook because I think the experience of chopping vegetables, folding in the cheese, and whipping cream to be pleasurable. I like the way biscuit dough feels in my hand. I love learning new skills in the kitchen. I'm not intimidated by sharp knives, hot burners, or pretentious ingredients.
I am a writer because the act of writing down thoughts, ideas, scenes, characters, dialogue are all pleasurable to me. I like the physical act of writing things down -- pens, paper, notecards, highlighters, typewriters, laptops, keyboards of all sorts. I love the feeling of when a story is working well and I can barely type to keep up with it. I love fantasizing about what my characters would say, where would they go, and even imagine what their lives are like when the story is over. I love a good productive day when I hit my word count goals or plan the rest of the story with markers and storyboards.
Publication does not feel like this. Getting an email from a magazine or journal saying they will publish something I wrote feels like "That's cool!" It lasts about a half an hour, once I have bragged to my nearest and dear ones. I might get another 15 when it publishes and I post on my social media about it. I always think it's going to feel like a glitter bomb exploded in my chest, but really it's like driving after a rainstorm and seeing a rainbow. Look at that. That's cool.
I spend more time and energy focusing on the outcome of publication instead of cultivating the joy of writing. I was telling myself how hard writing was. I was telling myself that writing was pointless because no one liked what I was writing and this dream was dead. I had forgotten why I started writing in the first place -- because it's fun.
The Process is a space to remind myself why I write. I want to document what I am doing along the way, so I don't forget when the writing gets challenging and starts to feel like a job instead of my vocation.
I also want to make note of what I am learning, as a writer, as a teacher, as a parent, as a human. I plan to post what I am learning about writing from the books I am reading, the stories I am trying to tell, and from the many students who I teach on a daily basis.
Letting go of the outcome is both a test of faith and bravery. I must have faith that everything I write will find a home, and brave enough to write the stories I am led to write. And along the way, enjoy of the process of creating something new.