This won’t be obvious in the future, so I probably shouldn’t even admit it, but I’m posting my blog hours late. For the first time in over two years, I completely forgot about scheduling a post! This is partly because of Vacation Brain, which is a known thing, but it’s also because my husband and I are in full-blown brainchild mode and working on a giant new project.
This is what happened.
We’re at World Domination Summit on Monday, our last day, and our suitcases are already packed to take to the airport. On Sunday, during the break between keynote speeches, there’s a lengthy break, during which anyone who wants to can propose a meetup on basically any topic. We had decided to do one together. This would be the first time we ever did a presentation or taught a class together. We put together an outline one morning at breakfast, worked out how much time each segment should take the next morning, and then divided which topics should belong to each of us. That was it.
The topic: Engineer Your Household.
This is something the two of us have developed organically over the course of our twelve-year relationship. His work as an aerospace engineer and my work as a writer, coach, and organizer merged with our mutual desire to not be, well, twice-divorced. We use the engineering process of relentless root cause analysis and corrective action to figure out points of friction in our relationship. That’s because it feels dumb to let housework and finances determine whether we are friends or not.
Don’t let laundry kill your love!
We arrived at our chosen location about 20 minutes early. That was long enough to work ourselves into a tizzy that nobody would come to our talk. We had so many concerns: that we’d interrupt and talk over each other, that our focus would wander and we’d let a bunch of non sequiturs fill up time, while forgetting our most important points. We’d wind up annoying each other while our audience gradually got up and trickled away.
Then, much to our surprise, almost everyone who showed up arrived in pairs! It had genuinely never occurred to us that married couples and romantic partners would attend together. We looked at each other with our mouths actually hanging open.
Our talk went so, so much better than we expected. We handed my iPad back and forth, going through our outline, while the other person would hold a phone with a stopwatch running. Not so polished or professional, but hey, we were standing in a park with zero staging, and it was also very us. That’s how we solve problems together, working as allies and teammates.
We were able to see that our new friends/audience were connecting with our message, laughing, glancing at each other, with a few nudges and pats of private meaning and connection.
We were also able to see that this core of our marriage - factory-level efficiency and scheduling - came across as genuinely original and surprising. Which I guess it is? This whole idea that we can create a system for dividing labor and negotiating authentically without driving each other up a tree. Acknowledging our frustrations and disappointments as commonplace! Just because laundry and weekday dishwashing are inherently annoying is NOT some kind of sign that you’re incompatible together. It’s a universal hassle that applies to single people, roommates, families with kids, polyamorous collectives, even colleagues in a coworking environment. Let’s treat it like a business matter and do it practically. Then we can actually be friends again and lounge around enjoying maximum leisure time.
At the end, people were asking if we had book recommendations, if we had a blog, if we had a podcast. I realized that this “do you have book recommendations” question comes up ALL THE TIME after I do a talk, and that each time, I pause and realize that, well, no. This is actually my own original material. In fact, it happened again during a meetup when I talked to a musician about mechanically inducing a creative trance state. Oh, wait, is that actually just a me thing?
I spend so much time working alone and talking to myself that I often don’t realize how very much I’m dwelling in an ivory tower of my own construction.
When we buy our tickets for WDS, we do it without scheduling or planning anything afterward. That’s because we know it’s a watershed in our year, that there’s a clear Before and After. We know we’ll learn something new, have a radical paradigm shift, or (AND/or) come up with a completely new approach to something. The stage was set and the structure was in place, waiting for the content, like a leaf waiting for a butterfly.
This year, the insight is that my husband and I should do a podcast together about marriage. Let me just say that that was NOT something that had ever occurred to us before. Look at your mate, if you have one, and ask each other if that would have popped up somehow over cornflakes... See what I mean?
At this point, our main decision is which day of the week we’ll use to record episodes. We already have quite a bit of content, a title, and a framework for how the different segments will line up. We have an idea of a series of guests (random private individuals) we’d like to have. We might spend a bit of time choosing some music (or pass on it) and getting a logo designed. There will be an accompanying website. Each of these pieces feels like a routine task, something that’s quite easy to accomplish.
It’s also felt straightforward and easy to say that I am closing the door on private coaching. I’ll go into it more at a later date, but basically, coaching doesn’t scale. If I spend even just an hour a week on one single client, that’s the hour a week I would have been using on THE ENTIRE PODCAST. The point is that the podcast could reach one or one hundred million listeners; it isn’t for us to guess, but it’s certainly going to be more people than I could coach individually. As soon as this clicked into place, I knew that the decision had been made and that I had no waffling or ambivalence around it. Finishing off one stage of life entirely, that’s what it is, in order to make room for something bigger and more interesting, something that will matter to more people.
Celebrity sighting! Eating dinner with my family outdoors in a quiet part of town, enjoying the long northern summer night, when the sun is still out at 9 PM. Suddenly I see none other than CHRIS GUILLEBEAU himself! He is more or less dashing into the counter-service restaurant where we just ordered our own food. I think we make eye contact, and I’m pretty sure he at least vaguely recognizes that my hubby and I are WDS people.
No worries. Your secret is safe with me.
Say whatever you want about LA. You have to give us credit that we do know how to keep it together during celebrity sightings. Respect that this is an actual human being with actual human needs! A person who is simply trying to eat a meal/use the restroom/go to a hotel room at bedtime/make a personal phone call/breathe in peace for 45 seconds now and then.
We made eye contact again as he left the restaurant. I swear it looked like he had fully retracted his aura and was working on an individual invisibility suit. Literally, though, I doubt he could have found a single person less likely to disturb his evening than myself. I get it. Thoroughly, I get it, especially after today, because I had an epiphany.
Okay, using CG as a model, I knew for a fact that he had been on the move for at least twelve hours. That’s not just on stage and in the spotlight, but also managing a million quadrillion moving parts, being the final arbiter on a gazillion and five last-minute decisions, and using every single particle of mental bandwidth trying to do an impeccable job. In public.
Also, that was just today. He’d have to do the same thing the following day, and might well be waking up at 5 AM.
After running a large event for a week.
After spending most of a year planning and organizing and managing.
I get it.
The only possible way I could show respect to this person whose work matters so much to me was to try to keep my face a mask and studiously pretend he wasn’t there. LA-style. Unless, of course, I saw someone else heading his way, looking for an opportunity to draw his attention. Then I could pop up on some pretext and distract them while he made a clean getaway.
You never really know who’s on your side and working toward your interests, do you?
During the keynote speeches at World Domination Summit, the audience were asked to pause, close our eyes, and think of what we were most afraid of. I’ve done this exercise dozens of times, but today, for whatever reason, it finally clicked. (Actually I know precisely why, but I’m refraining from sharing that story to protect someone’s privacy).
I’m not afraid of a bunch of stuff, like being emotionally vulnerable (hello, I’m a blogger), or reaching out to contact big names, or failure (because failure is usually funny and ripe for great storytelling), or even public humiliation. I had gone around all this time thinking I was afraid of having people disagree with me and want to argue about it, but I realized that there wasn’t really any juice in that for me.
I’m afraid of losing my privacy!
That’s it. That’s all it is.
Fortunately, I’m nowhere near famous. Most likely I never will be. As a writer, I have the advantage that virtually nobody who isn’t a personal friend would recognize me on sight. I can retain my anonymity, forever if I like. Ah, but if it were to happen...
There are a bunch of potential ramifications that I already know I hate, viz.:
I’m not an introvert. I like being in crowds and meeting new people. I love brainstorming. I like to make people laugh and I like to dance and play games and do physical stuff, like hiking and running foot races. It’s not about that.
It’s just that the more famous you are, the more you’re exposed to the lowest common denominator of behavior. Imagine a young couple in love, trying to have a wedding ceremony while a helicopter flies overhead trying to get photos. Ugh, gross. I will never be anywhere near that level of fame, and for the love of all that is holy, let me avoid that sad fate. Still, it bugs me that so many people feel morally entitled to know every private detail of a famous person’s life, get photos, and otherwise feel that this person’s contribution makes them, in some ways, less than fully human. I even feel that way about celebrities if I have no idea who they are or why they are famous!
I’m not really in the public eye. Yeah, I publish a blog five days a week, but so does my niece’s hamster and every other sentient creature in the solar system. It is dimly possible, though, that at some future date my diligent work habits might eventually lead to something cool. It’s really helpful for me to know that the major thing holding me back is my concern for my privacy and my precious alone time. That gives me a decade or four to figure out how to set those sorts of boundaries and preserve what I need to protect my creative energy.
I have to thank Chris Guillebeau for creating WDS, for writing and publishing his blog and his newsletter and all his books, for doing a daily podcast, for generating this entire community and getting this whole thing going. Ah, but, I understand that I don’t need to do it in person and I don’t need to do it at the end of his sixteen-hour day. Go in peace, hero of mine. I gotcha covered.
It could be different. Anything. Everything.
And also, wouldn’t it be more interesting to find out rather than just to wonder?
This is what happens when you spend an incredibly full day going back and forth across town, going to meetups on radically different topics and having conversations with all sorts of people you’ve never met before. You don’t have the time or attention span to focus on any one of the quotidian annoyances that normally eat your mental bandwidth. Instead you’re just learning and listening.
Then it strikes you, hey. Things could be different.
Talked to a guy today who found out in mid-meetup that he had been laid off from his day job. (Probably specifically because he dared to use his vacation time? That’s my guess). Not only did he seem quite relieved and perked up by this sudden news... within minutes he had a startup idea going with a couple of guys he just met. “WDS magic,” someone called out. Boom, different slipstream.
Here was my day.
Opening party. Not my jam. It’s a field day/gym class theme. Are you kidding us with this? I felt that I Don’t Want To Go and that That’s Fine and that I Would Be Cold Anyway and that We Really Need the Sleep. I even told people that we wouldn’t meet later because [I am a boring naysayer]. Then I found out that my roommate/lawfully wedded husband totally planned to go. We had dinner and headed up there. I was physically shaking with cold.
Then... It was warmer over on that end of town for some reason. THEN... we walked into the stadium and... there were a ton of cool toys scattered around. I realized that my absolute social dread/threshold anxiety/lack of interest/major emotional baggage from 80’s gym class had vaporized in the presence of all these hula hoops.
You know what’s fun? When you can teach something exciting to someone else who is really curious about it, and then watch their face transform with wonder and delight as they realize they are actually doing it! First, another lady taught me a new hula hoop trick. I made half a dozen super dorky looking failed attempts. Then... I DID IT! I was running around spinning a hula hoop around my foot and laughing like a loon when I looked up, and there was my husband, staring at me. I know he’ll never replace me with a younger woman because I’m quite childish enough to remind him what that’s like... After that, I spied another woman my age, her eyes as round as saucers. She said she had never been able to hula hoop before in her life, and “Now I can’t stop!” I knew precisely how she felt. I couldn’t spin a hula hoop until I was 35, and when I finally learned how, at a friend’s baby shower, I came straight home and demanded that we go directly to the toy store. That was really my entry into fitness, and what led me to the marathon. Anyway, I seized the opportunity and taught her how to spin two at once. On her first try, she did it about five times longer than I did. Contagious joy.
I finally found a fun way to move my body that interested and challenged me, something that felt silly and lively. Something I wish we had had in P.E. There are so many of us who need this!
Then I found another woman who taught me the steps to get into a headstand. (One of my bucket list “extremely specific physical goals”). I can balance my knees on my elbows and sort of get my legs in the air. It feels like, if I keep trying this every day, soon I’ll get it!
Then I got strapped inside this giant inflatable hamster ball and rolled around for a while. Yup, there’s video.
Then, suddenly, as I was standing there in this giant ball, a guy popped up with some notes about my meetup. I kept waiting for the critique, but he really just wanted to emphasize what he felt were the most important takeaways. So: whoa. How kind and generous of him to take the time to do this during a party!
The obvious lesson for me is that my default feeling is to never want to do anything. Yet, if I kick myself into gear and physically commit my body, I start really having fun. I make new friends, learn new things, and get some great photos. Then I have to ask myself, if I hadn’t shown up, what about the lady who never would have learned to spin two hula hoops at once? How could I let her down? Show up to things, is what I’m saying. Just show up and allow yourself the opportunity to escape early if you want. Find out what might happen, because you can never know if you don’t go.
Everything could be different by this time next year. A book deal? An improv group? Hugging dozens of people I haven’t met yet? Doing a handstand and walking on my hands across a field? All of the above and more?
What could be different for you?
I did my second-ever meetup at WDS. Remember how I started forcing myself into public speaking two years ago because I was so petrified by stage fright that I could barely stand up to speak my name? I have to keep reminding myself how far I’ve come in such a short time, because I’m being eaten up by what Michelle Barry Franco so aptly calls a “vulnerability hangover.” This is why I’m sharing, because I suspect it’s a natural part of the emotional arc of learning to inhabit a stage presence.
Our Thursday was all about public speaking and storytelling. Our first academy of the day was “Make Instant Friends and Raving Fans” by the inimitable Marsha Shandur. We had the great luck of getting into her sold-out storytelling academy last year, because we were fast and decisive. Until they manage to generate an AI avatar so there can be two Marshas, or we can get her to bilocate, her raving fans are going to have to be pretty fast on that reservation button! Today’s topic was a matter of serious study for an awkwardly shy person like myself. My “dork goblin” isn’t a separate version of me, it simply IS me, only realizing I bumbled my opportunity for a conversation in retrospect. “Hi, you’re amazing, please allow me to tell you a completely pointless and boring anecdote about myself and then forget why I was telling you.” Hours fly by. I believe Marsha’s claims to have once been shy and awkward, although they do seem tenuous; if true, then maybe there is hope for us all.
We had a lunch break and came back to the same building for our afternoon academy, “Speak So It Matters” by Michelle Barry Franco. She is a highly accomplished speaker and captivating in her own distinct way. While Marsha’s focus is more on forming a personal, emotional connection through storytelling, Michelle’s is more on clarifying a message and using public speaking to get traction on it. She had specific tips on how to find an audience - like physically find them - and create your own public speaking career. We broke into groups, and my hubby and I were very fortunate to click with a pair of podcasters who each already have a clearly defined audience.
I walked out of that academy with half an hour to get to my own meetup, Wishing Permission, feeling excited and focused and empowered. It’s hard to believe for anyone who is physically overpowered by stage fright, but it is indeed possible to get over that stage fright and anticipate a speaking opportunity with excitement. It is! It does take time, because what’s involved is reframing, neurohacking that physical anxiety response, stress inoculation, simple practice, and learning specific, straightforward presentation skills. If you have something you want to say badly enough, and you can push through the first couple of months, you too can be free of stage fright.
I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve improved, it’s easier, it’s easier, it got better, because right now I’m still in that mopey, limp rag of a state that I get in after a presentation. Beforehand I’m so excited about everything I have to say. During, I just talk really fast. I was proud that I started exactly on time and ended on time, from 5:00 to 6:01. Good job, me!
Afterward I felt small, homely, useless, pointless, boring, wrong, confusing, drained, sagging from sleeping only four hours, and that surely any rational person would abandon any idea of ever doing that again.
Same exact thing that happened last year.
It’s like when an elephant seal has her pup, and the pup gains its weight by effectively consuming her accumulated body fat reserves, pound for pound, until it’s grown enough that she can go out to get some fish for herself. The speech comes out of me, depleting my life force, until I’m a pasty imitation sock puppet version of myself. Flopped over with its sock mouth hanging open derrrrrrrrp.
Then the feedback starts coming in. I had people who had attended my Curate Your Stuff meetup last year, who still remembered everything I had to say!
Then I got this: “...I’d love to talk to you more about this wish stuff, I feel like you’re really on to something.” AHA!
What I’m sharing is that when we have an idea, an invention, an innovation, or an artistic creation, it becomes an entity in its own right. It deserves to enter the world of reality. We are not able to judge our own work; we can’t possibly know where it will find its audience, or when. It doesn’t belong to us at that point. It belongs to the world. We can’t let emotional foo interfere with the creation of the work. My feeling that “I am a terrible public speaker, my ideas are ludicrous, I’m funny-looking and nobody wants me” is a direct reaction, a physical letdown from the adrenal buildup of anticipating the event. It’s very much like every marathoner who reaches the finish line and then never runs again. One day, with practice, this will just feel like an ordinary thing that I do, and I’ll be more skilled at recognizing the emotional ebb and flow. Until then, I have to keep reminding myself that if even one person benefits from my work, then I can’t not work.
Hey. HOW DARE YOU not give us your project? Who the heck do you think you are, to keep your ideas for private entertainment and not release them?
What both Marsha Shandur and Michelle Barry Franco had in common was that they both emphasize: they are not naturals at this. They worked at it. It was contrary to whatever they were doing up to that point. “Doing what comes naturally” was not going to lead either of them to a public speaking career; they got there by NOT doing what comes naturally. We can trust by their example that the path is there. We can respect that it takes years of steady effort. We can hold the line when every instinct in our bodies says to run away and quit doing it. We can believe that with dedication and focus, we can learn to captivate and get a message across. We just have to be willing to be dorky the first few tries.
That question again! Here we are at World Domination Summit, and the event brochure has space to write “Why I am Unconventional” as well as “Why I am Remarkable.” I find that the first is easy to answer while the second is imponderable. At a different convention a couple weeks back, we partnered up and were supposed to tell each other “what makes me great.” I vapor locked and couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Is this easy for anyone? Yet how can we live up to the premise of WDS otherwise? “How do you live a remarkable life in a conventional world?”
I turned to my husband, someone who really is quite remarkable, and said, “What’s great about me? I can’t even ride a unicycle!” He snorted.
It always seems so easy to notice the remarkable in other people. Gassing people up is one of my main talents. Sometimes I meet people who seem never to have been complimented or thanked for anything for years on end, they’re so surprised and pleased. It’s a skill that can be learned, for instance by doing a lot of evaluations in Toastmasters. Give someone an accurate and highly specific compliment and you can not only make an instant friend, you can even reframe that person’s self-concept entirely.
You know you’ve caught them agreeing with you when their mouth starts to twitch.
Last year, I went to a meetup I particularly enjoyed, and I wanted to give feedback to the woman who came up with the idea. She did the whole feminine thing of resisting any and all perceived compliments. I looked her dead in the eye and said, “That’s not a compliment, it’s an objective fact. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone else at this event. Look at how much fun they’re having! You’re good at this and you should own it.”
We’re supposed to be modest. That’s true in some cultures more than others, but bragging is frowned upon. We’re not even supposed to admit when we’ve given to charity, as though keeping it a deep dark secret were somehow the most effective way to support their cause. We’re especially not supposed to be ambitious (doubly true if “we” are female), admit to being good at anything, or show an interest in money. This is why it can be so hard to find out that the people in your social group have so many special talents!
Has this happened to you? You bring up a random topic in conversation with someone you’ve known for years, only to find out that they can play piano/speak a third language/have a black belt/ran a marathon/lived overseas/served in the military/rode an ostrich/survived driving off a cliff. Why didn’t you tell me?? A very weird example of this happened when I was married to my first husband, we bumped into an acquaintance of his at a bus stop, and they started up a rapid-fire conversation in American Sign Language. I had ZERO idea that my lawfully married mate knew how to sign at all. What, this wasn’t interesting enough to you to share with me?
We come to a place like World Domination Summit attracted to the concept of dominating the world. In some way. In some group probably? It can’t be done while hiding our talents and rare gifts, awkward as it might feel. When we go to Mars, someone has to be the captain and someone has to be the engineer and someone has to be the geologist. When we start our own band, someone has to sing and someone has to play the tuba and someone else has to play the piccolo. Step up and state your skills.
This is easy for tiny kids. Who is a good singer? MEEEEE! Who is a good dancer? MEEEEE! Who can draw a picture? ME ME ME PICK ME! Then we start to grow up and be realistic and practical and all that jazz. In other words, pick up our share of the burden of conventional, ordinary, mundane, boring old regular daily life. Clean out the lint trap - but don’t sculpt it! Wash the dishes, but don’t reinvent the dishwasher. Fold that fitted sheet, but not into origami. Turn in your taxes, but not in the form of interpretive dance. (Pennies, though).
It started in line, waiting for registration to open for the afternoon. My hubby and I struck up a conversation with the other people in line. In under five minutes, we had invented something ludicrous and everyone was laughing. I don’t want to say what it was because I want to use it in a movie, but I will share that it led to another idea, an automatic treat-launcher for dogs. Sort of like an aggressive toaster. I can say freely that this is something remarkable about WDS, the way that any combination of people in any size group can instantaneously morph into a conga line, improv comedy, a brainstorm, a singalong, or a heady conversation.
The first meetup I attended, Make Friends with the Lens, was about learning to overcome fear of being on camera. I looked around at all these gorgeous, fascinating people, and I recognized everything they had to say about feeling awkward and self-conscious, and I thought, WHY? What are you worried about? Just keep talking! Then I caught myself in my familiar old thoughts about my own physical appearance: Asymmetrical, frizzy, unfashionable, et cetera. On playback, I was astonished to realize that, while I think of myself as speaking in a high, squeaky voice, I actually spoke in a low register. I have work to do as far as feeling confident on camera, but I did walk away believing that I will sound perfectly fine when I launch my podcast this year. There’s an audience for everyone, and it’s variety and uniqueness that draw the response, not plasticity or conformity. Why follow multiple shows that all look and sound exactly alike?
My hubby and I are leading two meetups of our own this year. Whatever about us that is remarkable enough to teach, we’re putting it out there. Isn’t that our job as humans anyway?
“Don’t die with your gifts still inside.” Amber Rae’s book starts here, and for me at least, it was like a mallet ringing a huge gong. Whatever else we’re worried about, it should be drowned out by that imperative, that we fulfill our purpose during the time we have in this world. What is it about worry that it always manages to claim our attention? Choose Wonder Over Worry invites us to explore other ways of relating to our anxieties, ways that made me feel like someone had been reading my own personal diary. I couldn’t get enough of it.
First, Rae differentiates between toxic worry and useful worry. Useful worry helps us to figure out how to solve our problems, strategize, and make plans. Obviously keep doing that. Toxic worry, on the other hand, creates resistance and blocks us from living a full life. We tell ourselves stories about events and react based on negative feelings like shame and envy. While this may seem self-evident, it’s here that the book really starts to take off.
Some of the best elements of Choose Wonder Over Worry are the artwork and the journal prompts. There were a couple of these that I could really use in a poster format! For example, page 77 in its entirety. I do quite a lot of journaling, and even with that background, there were several prompts that made me nod, wince, jump up in my seat, or otherwise physically react to their strength and insight.
I didn’t know anything about Amber Rae’s work when I discovered this book. Choose Wonder Over Worry made me into a fan. This is a book to savor, to engage with care and attention. I’m still mulling over questions from these pages, and it’s very much on my mind. This book is on my top ten for the year so far.
“Worry is useful only when it’s within our control and empowers us to act.”
Where in your life do you not feel ready yet? What small step can you take today?
You need to learn how to start saying no to things you DO want.
If criticism and judgment didn’t matter, what would you do? Say? Focus on?
Make a wish. Why not?
Whenever there’s something you want, ask yourself, Why not? Why shouldn’t it happen? Why shouldn’t I get it?
Almost always, the answer is, Go right on ahead. Nothing is stopping you. There really aren’t any reasons why you shouldn’t have something.
Wishing feels selfish to many people. They ask, Why SHOULD it happen? Why SHOULD I get it? Why me? There are lots of great answers to these questions.
Say you wish for a job, and you get it. If you get the job, it means you were the best applicant. People more experienced than you interviewed several people, so if they chose you, then you can feel confident that they knew what they were doing. You’re the best. You’ll be the one who commits and does the best job. That makes your boss’s life easier, helps the company to run more smoothly, helps your coworkers to get their work done, and ultimately helps your customers. When you wish for a better job, you’re really wishing to give more to more people.
Say you wish for a nicer place to live. You apply for an apartment or you buy a house, and you get it. You’re the best tenant and the best neighbor. You’re happier there than you were at your old place, and because of this, your very presence improves the neighborhood. You take care of your home and the area around it, and you look out for everyone around you. When you wish for a nicer place to live, you’re making the world a better place just by being there.
Say you wish for romance. You meet someone and you’re irresistibly drawn to one another. You get to know each other, and you realize that everything is just better when you’re together. Your appreciation of this person, your delight in their presence, makes them feel loved and wanted. They can’t believe their luck, that they would meet someone like you who would be so pleased to be with them. When you wish for romance, you’re beaming more love into the world.
Where are the flaws in these examples?
It doesn’t work if you want the results without giving back.
If you wish for a job where you get a lot of money for complaining, procrastinating, being rude and impatient with customers, and spreading negative gossip about your coworkers, well, good luck with that.
If you wish for a nicer place to live, but then you pay your rent late, don’t do routine maintenance or communicate with the property manager, make a lot of noise, leave a bunch of junk and trash around your yard, and fight with your neighbors, well, then it isn’t really a nicer place to live anymore, is it?
If you wish for romance, but what that means to you is that someone nicer than you in every way waits on you hand and foot while you criticize everything they do, well, we shall see.
What makes it work is that you are ready to give. Give first and give lavishly.
Wish for a career that challenges you to live up to your full potential, something that brings out more in you than you realized you had. What would it feel like to have a job that you didn’t hate, that wasn’t drudgery, that you didn’t dread morning and night? What would it feel like to actually love what you do and feel fascinated with it? Bring that feeling to work with you. When you do, doors magically start to open, because this attitude makes you a dream employee.
Wish for a home where you feel safe and comfortable, a place where you love to come home and spend your time. When you really love where you live, you’re inspired to make it beautiful and welcoming, to yourself and others. This adds charm to your street and inspires other people to carry that feeling back to their own homes.
Wish for a relationship filled with mutual delight and appreciation. When you find someone you simply enjoy, someone you like and respect, you show it. Your positive regard comes through when you’re a good listener and a good friend, when you demonstrate your affection by doing nice things and being emotionally present. The conversation flows and you develop into companions. There’s a certain peace in being with someone, when you trust and understand one another. It helps you both to be better friends to other people whom you know more casually. It can also help you both to provide a sense of solidity to family and others in the community. Show them how it’s done.
Wait, it can’t be that easy. It can’t! I can’t just have all my wishes come true, can I? That doesn’t even make sense! What about my selfish wishes?
Why not? Why wouldn’t you be willing to step up and be the best employee or the best boss, the best tenant or the best neighbor, the best wife or husband or boyfriend or girlfriend? Ask yourself that first.
What about the selfish wishes, though? I have so many!
It isn’t wrong to wish for things. It’s neutral.
If I wish for a stack of pancakes, I can make them, which doesn’t bother anyone, or I can suggest it and someone else in the house can make them, which I can receive as a gift of love that I then gratefully reciprocate at a later point. (Maybe by cleaning the kitchen afterward). I can also go out and buy a stack of pancakes, which provides someone else an opportunity to make a living selling those pancakes. (I hear they’re selling like hotcakes). I could perhaps also steal someone else’s pancakes, which would cause trouble for me, pointlessly. If I was really that hungry, I could offer to make the pancakes for someone else: You supply the kitchen and the ingredients, I’ll do the cooking and the cleanup. Maybe my obsessive desire for hot fresh pancakes turns into a beloved breakfast cafe and I can be surrounded by them all day long.
It’s really hard to make a true wish that doesn’t benefit multiple people along the way.
Wishes have a way of rippling outward, turning into bigger wishes that then trigger yet more wishes. Along the way, these wishes ignite new relationships and generate economic activity. Why not? Why not wish for anything you want?
I love this book!
The premise of Write It Down Make It Happen is very simple: writing down clear, specific desires helps them to come true. This is sorta ludicrous on the face of it, isn’t it? Yet Klauser begins by offering several examples of famous people who did it, including Suze Orman, Scott Adams, and Jim Carrey. I do it myself, as I have done on a regular basis for many years, and that’s why I’m always looking for ways to improve my process. What I love about Write It Down Make It Happen is that it focuses on getting more analytical about the wish-formation and writing part of the process, rather than just the yearning part. Writing down what you want is a way of figuring out what you want and planning how to make it happen.
Chapters focus on different areas where someone might want to manifest something. One of my favorites is the chapter “Getting Ready to Receive,” in which a lonely older woman writes diary entries to her future soul mate as though he already existed in her life. I did something similar before dating my current husband. I did intensive journaling exercises to make sense out of my divorce, work through everything I didn’t want, decide whether I was even interested in a long-term monogamous relationship, and figure out what emotional context I wanted if I ever got married again. Without all of that writing, which took hundreds of pages, I know I would not have recognized my husband as an eligible partner. It’s about recognizing how you want to feel while you’re with your partner, not how tall he is or what music he likes.
Write It Down Make It Happen advises that we write about our anger, fear, and resistance around a situation as well as our wishes and positive feelings. This is so hugely important! We are reminded that our understanding of a situation may be incomplete, and that we often assume something can’t go our way without actually asking about it. There’s a really excellent example in the book about a woman who wishes to live in Europe and thinks she’ll have to make a difficult career trade-off. She is astonished to learn that her wish is a win-win for her employer, too. Living a bigger life means contributing at a higher level, and that means giving more to others and the world than you would by staying unhappily stuck.
Write It Down Make It Happen is a classic example of why wishes deserve to come true. Henriette Anne Klauser undoubtedly wrote down her wishes that she could write this book, that it would find a publisher, and that readers would enjoy it. While she wished for these things for herself, what she was really doing was propelling herself to create something more valuable to others than it was to herself. Now we can only wish that she’ll write another one!
“Writing a full-fledged description of what you want is one way of saying you believe that it’s attainable and you are ready to receive it.”
The strangest thing just happened to me. I was reading someone else’s book, when this insight spontaneously dropped in my mind. I snapped to attention. THAT’S IT! All these bits and pieces of family lore sprang into context. I realized that part of why I was able to fully recover from chronic pain and fatigue was that I’ve deeply internalized a series of family legends about healing and trauma. Maybe the reason other people haven’t had the same experience is that it hasn’t occurred to them that they can?
First, there’s my story. I was diagnosed with a thyroid nodule when I was 23. I was supposed to get a needle biopsy, but I procrastinated for over a year. When I finally went in, I was lying on a gurney in a paper gown, being prepped for the surgery, and the ultrasound revealed that the nodule was gone. Surgery was canceled and they sent me home.
Then, there’s my brother’s story. His spine was fractured in three places in a terrifying construction accident. He was left to lie contorted over his tool bag in the mud because they were afraid to move him. He’s training for his first marathon this year, and right now his mile time is sub-seven minutes.
Then, there’s my auntie’s story. (Paternal branch). She was diagnosed with fourth-degree liver failure and given six months to live. That was the year 2000. Still here in 2018.
Then there’s my grandfather’s story. (Maternal branch). He got mumps and was told it had made him sterile. Thus, his fourth and fifth children came as something of a surprise. If the doctors were right in Granddad’s case, I wouldn’t be here and neither would my mom.
There are probably more, if I do some interviews, but these are the family legends that popped into mind when I had my startling epiphany.
So what gives? Does getting mumps turn your grandchildren into superheroes, or what?
I’m not sure what. I have some guesses, though.
Note that each of the four stories I shared involves a different category physical problem. Endocrine dysfunction, skeletal injury, organ failure, infectious illness. There are also two separate genetic lines involved; my auntie has no blood relation to my grandfather of legend. If there are any unifying biological themes here, I have no idea what they might be.
Doctors tend to be pragmatists. It’s the nature of their work. Generally, what works for most people most of the time is close enough to truth to get the job done. Most people are functional, at least on a basic level, and human longevity is double what it was two hundred years ago, so there’s a lot they’re doing right.
There are some glaring, epic flaws in Western medical training. The first is that healthy and well people don’t come back. Feedback comes from the persistently unhealthy, those who didn’t get better and are still having trouble. Where are the data on all the people who got better? Second, the process of earning a medical degree is so contrary to physical well-being that it’s a wonder anyone survives. Chronic sleep deprivation, stress, overwork, and burnout are core requirements of the curriculum. Third, doctors are not taught nutrition! We have a fix-what’s-broken perspective rather than a maintain-and-improve perspective.
Would a doctor recognize what a healthy and thriving person was doing right? Enough to teach it to other patients?
I can tell you what I did that I believe reversed my thyroid disease. While I was busy procrastinating and not wanting to find out whether I had cancer, I began a very strenuous exercise program. I went from zero to riding my bicycle at least fifteen miles a day, on hilly terrain that required every one of my 21 gears. I got so strong that I could pick up my bike, rest it on my shoulder, and dash up a flight of stairs without thinking about it.
My brother swears by yoga. He was in great shape when he broke his back; it’s possible that if he hadn’t been so lean he might not have survived his accident. He’s also been a vegetarian for like twenty years (just saying).
As for my auntie and my granddad, I have no idea. I’m not sure whether they would have had any guesses either. It wouldn’t be wrong to list the character trait of stubbornness here.
Intuitively, I think part of what’s going on is whether we believe in a story, and how that belief influences our behavior. There can also be a huge gulf between what the doctor actually said and how the patient INTERPRETS what the doctor said. I have heard more than one person tell me, quote, “I physically can’t lose weight” based on what a doctor supposedly said, and I bet a shiny copper penny that no doctor has ever said that to anyone, ever, at any time. I also don’t think that medical professionals use the word “incurable,” but we tend to hear that a lot, too. For some reason, a lot of people positively adore talking about illness, disease, surgery, prescriptions, accidents, trauma, and negative outcomes. What this variety of person does with otherwise sound medical information, who can say?
So. One person goes to the doctor with [HEALTH PROBLEM] and eventually recovers. Another person goes to the (same) doctor with [IDENTICAL HEALTH PROBLEM], comes home believing in the problem, and never gets better. Does the second person’s complete package of behavior match the first person’s complete package of behavior? Why are we not studying this?
What I do differently than other people is to introduce myself to doctors as a health-oriented person. I tell them I’m a marathon runner and that I “want to get back in action” or something similar. I tell them that “I try to be as proactive about my health as possible.” Then they look at my labs and realize that my blood work backs me up. While I have the opportunity, I ask as many questions as possible. For instance, I cut my sclera last year, and when I went in to the optometrist, I asked her about this hypothesis that people could gradually correct their vision mechanically by spending more time outdoors and looking at different distances. She said sure, that sounded plausible. I’m one of the only people in my family who has never needed glasses, so I take this to confirm my bias toward exercise and outdoor pursuits. Since I tend to believe that I am entitled to perfect health, I work to attract information that supports my belief - and ignore anything that contradicts it.
Oh, yeah, and my eye healed, too. 20/80 back to 20/20 in two weeks.
Who knows what the future will bring? Maybe I’ll wind up a victim of spontaneous human combustion. Maybe I’ll sprout antlers or turn purple. Who knows? In the meantime, I’m in enviable shape for a middle-aged American woman. I have every intention of living to be 111. I see no reason to change my mind and start adopting negative, pessimistic views about illness and injury. A doctor told me once, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it,” and that’s medical advice I actually trust.
“Your Majesty” wouldn’t be good enough for me as a title, not if I were the queen of the world. I’d have to come up with something new, something more impressive, something that hadn’t been used already for mere queens of countries or empires. “Most Supreme Awesomeness,” maybe. I’d figure it out. I’d figure it out just as soon as I figured out what it meant to be the queen of the entire world and what good it would ever do me.
The first thing I think, when I think of great fame, is the burden. In fact, I think along these lines every time I see a picture of Kate Middleton. Bless her heart. Lovely as a flower. She always seems to be perfectly dressed, but then she’d have to be, wouldn’t she? A duchess! She’s even expected to look perfect mere hours after giving birth. Every single thing she does, says, or wears is a headline. Walking perfection every minute, or else. Does she ever get any time to herself? Can she have any secrets? Does she have a confidante whom she can trust absolutely? I don’t know much about her, but I do know she doesn’t get to go to the convenience store in pajama bottoms and Ugg boots.
Not that I do, either, but it’s nice to know I have that freedom.
I have some major advantages. An ordinary life is one of those secret blessings that people don’t appreciate until something changes. I have something that no amount of money can buy, something that every celebrity would envy: total obscurity. That means privacy. There are no photographers following me around. Nobody puts me in a headline. Nobody comes up asking me for selfies or autographs. If I want to read a book, I sit down and read it, because that’s what you can do when the world isn’t knocking on your door. For what it’s worth, I’m certainly the queen of my own world.
The fantasy seems to be one of adulation. Awash in compliments. People waiting on you hand and foot, bringing you things, trying harder if the first attempt didn’t impress you. Nobody contradicts you - nobody dares! Total leisure and indolence, nothing but sleeping on satin sheets, lolling about in a bubble bath, trying on flattering outfits and indulging in elaborate beauty rituals. Oh, yes, youth and beauty, with an edge of power and fierce intelligence. Queen of the world, that’s not nearly the same as princess of the world, is it? ‘Princess’ implies sweet innocence. The queen of the world would have to be on the razor’s edge of villainy, am I right? The femininity seems to drain out of this image of female power, because what makes us feminine is our yielding, nurturing, patience, and putting others first.
Oh, no no no! That’s not right at all. As queen of the world, all I would want is to be universally beloved, my populace entranced with how incredible I am. I would rule with a wave and a smile, like Glinda the Good Witch. There would be no critics and no skeptics! I would never have to resolve global issues like political conflict, natural disasters, or epidemics. Easy and perfect, all the praise and none of the effort or responsibility.
Hmm, no, that’s not right either.
It’s just not for me. As it turns out, wearing heavy stuff on my head gives me migraine. There isn’t a crown or diadem or tiara in the world that I could wear for long.
I wouldn’t want to be queen of the world. So many reasons! Constantly surrounded by a security detail, never able to go anywhere alone, never being able to relax my guard and just be myself. If I had the hiccups everyone would hear about it. On stage all the time. Expected to make appearances and give my blessing to this and that, even if I’d never heard of it the day before. It’s too much of a price to pay for the fantasy of never being criticized or contradicted, never having a naysayer or a frenemy. Actually I think that the queen of the world would have almost entirely frenemies.
The life of obscurity is the life for me. It’s the life of freedom. Accepting that only a handful of people in the world will be my true friends is plenty. As long as there’s one! Better a faithful friend to one than some kind of celebrity idol to a million.
Any power that I have comes from a few predictable sources. Power in my physical form, a power that I can feel as I move my limbs. Power in living my values and knowing I am consistent in myself. Power in my love and friendship. Power in keeping my word. Power in knowledge. Power in being debt-free and beholden to no one. Power in financial security. Power in my abilities, the skills I continue to learn. Power in my sphere of influence, which expands as I build my reputation and add to my contributions.
I have power when I speak for what is right. I have power when I can stand up for someone else. I have power when I put effort toward causes that are important to me. I have power when I keep someone’s secret, when I demonstrate that I am trustworthy and reliable. I have the ultimate power of loving words and deeds. With this power, I can transform my personal environment, and this can ripple outward and affect those around me.
I can’t be the queen of the world, nor would I want to be. I can be the queen of my own world, though. I can be the queen of one man’s world, my husband’s. If I am to wear this crown, may I be wise and merciful, benevolent and splendid. And may I retain my awe-inspiring obscurity.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.