How to Steer Your Life By (Despite) Contradictory Advice

People love to give advice. I’ve been fortunate to receive a lot of good advice from a lot of good advice.

Unfortunately, this advice is frequently directly contradictory – sometimes even in the same conversation. Here are a few examples to give you an idea of what I mean.

Persistence Vs. Insanity

Persistence pays off, they say. Stick with it. Don’t be a quitter. Hard work will win the day. Keep at it.

They also say that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

So if you’re doing the same things every day, and getting the same results every day, should you keep at it? Or are you just driving yourself inane?

Diversify Vs. Focus

Get a well rounded education. Pursue your interests. Learn a little about a lot, and never turn down an opportunity to gain a new skill.

But be focused. Don’t be a Jack of all trades and master of none. True genius is obsessed. Pick your one big calling in life and chase after it with single-minded focus. He who chases two rabbits catches none – or something like that.

Blending In Vs. Standing Out

Don’t be the nail that sticks out; it always gets hammered down. Be agreeable, look for things you have in common with the people around you, and downplay or hide your differences. Don’t be confrontational; don’t even mention topics that might start (or reveal) conflict – like politics, religion, or football. (Although, in Texas, they’re sometimes the same thing.)

But if you want to be more confident, just be yourself! Let your true identity shine through. People will love you for who you truly are.

(As an aside, if you ever want to see a conformist bunch, just look for some rebellious teenagers. Doesn’t matter what the current style or fad is; the effect is always something like a uniform. This is true for most groups, but the irony of conformist rebellion is pretty sweet.)

Procrastination Vs. Punctuality

Better late than never, after all. At least it got done. It might have taken three years to hang those photos/finish that filing/wash the car, but it’s done, by George. Who’s up for a nap?

On the other hand, William Shakespeare said better three hours early than a minute late. A lot of employers share his opinion; and when it comes to emergency services and pizza delivery, I can see their point.

I’m sure you can think of many more examples.

So how are you supposed to know which advice to apply when? This is your life! It’s important!

I don’t know how to handle conflicting advice, but here are some guidelines that I’ve found useful when trying to sort through the cloud of well-mean direction to find the right next step.

First: Laugh about it. You think it matters a lot. But it probably doesn’t. Or it does, but it won’t. (I’ve talked to quite a few long-married couples, and it seems no one cares what colors they had at their wedding after the twentieth anniversary or so.) Laughter will help you relax, relaxing will help you see more clearly, and seeing clearly will help you make a better decision.

Second: Look ahead. Are you going in the direction you want to go? Then keep going. No? Then turn around. It can also help, when you’re getting stressed out about a decision, to measure it by how long it will still matter. Will you care next week? Next month? Next year? Fifty years from now? If the answer to more than two of those is NO, then relax and don’t worry about it so much. See Step One.

Third: Stop worrying about you. There’s a lot of release in worrying about other people instead. Send someone a birthday card. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Donate something you don’t need anymore. Say something nice to a stranger.  Our lives have a way of setting themselves in order when we set ourselves to the service of others.

 

Short Stories on Amazon

I released two new short stories in ebook form this weekend. The Unfortune Hunter (a light-hearted fairy-tale remix) and The Spider’s Daughter (a Japanese-style ghost story) are both available on Amazon!

Print editions are coming soon. The publishing learning curve has been steep but smooth up till now, but I hit print formatting with a crunch heard across Texas. But I will prevail! Paper will be mine!

(And yours.)

Thanks for your support at the beginning of this adventure!

How Excited Am I? Let Me Count the Ways

I’ve been telling everybody about my book. It’s a pretty short conversation, but I’m too excited to keep it to myself. (A book! I published a book! Me! Isn’t it pretty? Isn’t it interesting? A whole book! Novellas count!)

Most of these conversations end in general congratulations (which I love, don’t get me wrong), but some, besides being flattering to my ego, are hilarious as well.

Today, when the UPS guy came in with our first delivery, I started bouncing in my chair. (I did say I’m telling everybody, right?)

Me: “Guess what?”

Him: “You’re a nut?”

Me: “Well, that too. But I published a book!”

Him: “A book?! Really? Where can I find this book?”

Me: “On Amazon!”

Him: “What’s it called?”

Me: (Thinking he probably won’t remember the title by the end of what’s probably a very long day for a UPS driver in Texas) “Just search for Rachel Wicker! I’m the only one there is!”

Him: “Thank goodness for that.”

(This is the same UPS driver who, for security/privacy/conspiracy reasons unknown refuses to reveal his name. So I call him Moriarty and he calls me Watson.)

(An aside for anyone concerned about the safety of the general public: My coworker worried that my swelling head would push her up against the wall of our shared office and squish her. I pointed out that she has a letter opener, so if my head gets that big, it should be easy to pop me.  She agreed that she’ll do that if she needs to, so the problem will be taken care of long before my head can swell big enough to throw Earth’s orbit out of balance and send us all spinning into fiery doom in the center of the sun. Which is good, because wouldn’t that be embarrassing? It’s nice to have coworkers you can count on in an emergency.)

Book Release: Raised in Captivity Now Available

Raised in Captivity: A Strange Kin Novella is now available on Amazon! It was brought to us by the lovely ladies at Purple River Press (me, myself, and I – thanks gals! Looking good!).

Seina is human.

Tor is not.

Tor has always followed the rules. He understands his place in Kin society – the bottom, where you get the work done and don’t ask questions.

Now, more than twenty years after Earth has changed management and become a popular tourist destination for the sophisticated Kin, Tor makes his first contact with a real human. She’s beautiful, funny… alien…

And he’s never going to be the same again.

This is my first science-fiction novella. The sequel, a novel (currently) called Devil’s Advocate, is under construction now and scheduled for release by the end of 2017.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy it 😀

 

This Made Me Think

I’ve been in Cover Design Land this week (oooh… pretty pictures… aaargh…. fonts don’t match….) so I don’t have any insightful/interesting/amusing things to say for myself.

Passive Guy, however, found this interesting article about cultural appropriation (in this context, the act of writing about someone different from you – because you might get it wrong, or worse, get it right, and either way, somebody’s feelings will be hurt). The news is interesting, in a gut-wrenching way. Passive Guy’s analysis is very interesting.

Have a great weekend! I battle on against all Evil Fonts, and will hopefully emerge from Cover Design Land sometime next week.

Don’t Tempt the Narrative

I sat down to reconcile the bank statement this month feeling confident that all my records were up-to-date and complete.

“This is going to be e-” I said out loud, and stopped myself short.

For suddenly I felt the dark, cold, grim shadow of Narrative sweeping overhead, circling in for the kill.

It took half an hour to reconcile most of the statement.

It took three and a half hours past that to track down two small discrepancies between the bank records and the credit card processor’s reports.

Halfway through, in a fit of frustration (and mostly just in a fit), I shook my fist at the ceiling and yelled “What could possibly go wrong?!”

I probably made it worse on myself, but at least I took a stand, spat in Narrative’s eye, and dared it to Do Its Worst.

Which it did.

Lesson: Even when you’re 99% sure that your life is really happening in real life, and not between book covers, don’t tempt the Narrative. We all know what happens to Those People in movies – the ones who open the closed doors, who don’t listen to all the warnings to Don’t Go Near The Castle, who begin a war with the jaunty promise that It Will All Be Over By Christmas. Don’t be one of Those People.

The powers of Narrative are strange and mysterious… and after four hours of bank statement battle, extremely frustrating. Save yourself some drama and Tylenol and don’t tempt the Narrative.

Money: Sunshine, Water, or Blood?

How much money you don’t have doesn’t matter next to how well you manage the money you do have.

This is a good thing! Because while no one can snap their fingers and make a million dollars appear out of nothing, anyone can start chopping back the weeds of their own financial garden and see more produce from the same small plot of ground, thanks to a little better management.

(We’re going all in on metaphors today. Strap in.)

But the way you think about money has a big effect on how you manage your money.

Most employees and workers tend to think of money as sunshine.

If the sun is shining today, and you know it will also be shining tomorrow and the day after and all weekend, too, it doesn’t really matter if you waste today’s sunshine. Sure, you could go out and take care of the yard work, paint the fence, wash the car (although that chore is way more fun in the rain), walk the dog, go to the park… but since it’s going to be sunny tomorrow, it doesn’t matter if you decide to stay inside instead, doing chores that could be done on a rainy day, or skipping all your chores altogether.

To an employee, money comes on time, every day (or every two weeks), and you can reliably predict how much is coming before it hits your bank account.

Smart employees realize that the sun doesn’t shine all the time, and they sock some of their earnings away for a rainy day. This thinking is sort of similar to water conservation.

I grew up in the country on a small property with a well. When the well went dry – which happened like clockwork when we had guests for more than a day during the peak of summer or in the middle of a drought (frequently the same thing) – the water coming out of the tap turned red and sandy, dropped down to a miserable trickle, and you could hear the pipes clunking with effort to move water that wasn’t there. You went into town to buy drinking water, crossed your fingers, and hoped the well would recharge and start flowing again before you had to take your BO to church.

Eventually Dad built a buffer tank, so water moved from the well to the tank and only then to the house. There was a lot of technical stuff involved with trip-switches and water levels, but essentially, when we were in a drought and the water table was low, we were pulling water from the tank instead of directly from the well. That eased the burden on the well enough that it didn’t empty out on us nearly so often.

But even if there’s a rainy day here and there, the sun does come back out, and the water table rises, and the next paycheck comes in.

Business owners, on the other hand, are thinking and playing to a different set of rules. As one business owner told me, “Money is blood. When you run out, your business dies.”

More than one businessperson has told me that long-term successful business owners never spend money that they don’t have to. There’s no guarantee that money will be replaced, after all, or how soon. (The mortgage doesn’t care if you’ve got enough money outstanding in unpaid customer invoices to pay the house off three times over; the check has to be written today.)

How would your approach to your budget change if you were rationing out blood instead of sunshine? And how does understanding that money is a business’s blood change how you see some of your employer’s decisions?

It’s a matter of perspective, but perspective changes attitudes, and attitudes change actions, and actions can change everything.

Thinking Like Cinderella – Or, Your Godmother Isn’t Coming

A victim waiting for a hero remains a victim.

Or, to rephrase the same principle: An ordinary person waiting to be transformed by an extraordinary event… remains ordinary.

Consider Cinderella.

Events moved her from a comfortable position (favorite daughter of a doting father) to an uncomfortable position (father dies, leaving her in the care of wicked stepmother and co.).

She remains in this new position, doing housework, fetching and carrying and slaving away, singing as she works, (and befriending the household vermin, depending on which version of the story you prefer), and does… nothing.

Oh, she works very hard, but it’s the same hard work every day. Actions → consequences; same actions → same consequences. In other words, Cinderella does as much to maintain the status quo as her persecutors.

And there’s no doubt that she would be there still, scrubbing the floors and singing to the soap bubbles, if events hadn’t intervened again, all but forcing her into Prince Charming’s arms.

(Even keeping in mind that Cinderella lived in a pre-industrial, pre-suffrage world, with limited economic opportunities for anybody, she could still have taken some kind of action. Presumably she knew how to read and write, since her father was a wealthy merchant. Didn’t any of the shopkeepers in town want a wife who could do sums? She could have run away and joined a convent, if nothing else.)

I love fairy tales, but they are fairy tales – and in our non-fairy world, it’s dangerous to think and act as though we expect our fairy godmother to come along at any moment and arrange our marriage….

… or our career change, or our education, or our makeover, or our happiness….

Any day can be a day that changes your life. I think it depends a lot less on circumstances than on how closely you’re paying attention.

I’ll share one day that changed my life, because I was paying attention.

I was unemployed (strike one), still living at home with my parents (strike two), and unhappy about it (strike three). My former employer had gone out of business, and I was looking (not very hard) for a job that would pay enough to either cover the gas for the commute (and it would be a long commute – my parents live a long way from everywhere) or enough for me to move out into my own apartment. I had no college degree and very little work experience, and it seemed nobody was hiring at the wage level I calculated I needed to move out or commute – or at least, they weren’t hiring people like me. (This was not long after the 2008 crash.)

To kill time while I waited for the magic job to appear, I enrolled in a class at the local junior college. (Forty-five minutes from home, one way, nothing but empty highway and lonely gas stations on the way. I told you this was the middle of nowhere.) I no longer remember what the class was.

The first night, the instructor asked us to introduce ourselves to the class with our name and our goal or purpose for taking the course.

I have never heard any room of otherwise unrelated strangers sound so unanimous.

I’m waiting for a job opening.

I’m waiting for the economy to improve.

I’m waiting for a better….

I’m waiting until…

I’m waiting…

Normally this would be my cue to feel superior (always a lovely warm feeling). But as the introduction train made its way to me, I stood up and heard myself say “I’m waiting to get a good enough job so I can afford to move out.”

The instructor’s polite expression read somewhere between disgust and despair. She looked around the room of Cinderellas, and you could see her thinking: What am I supposed to do with this lot?

I did a lot of thinking on the drive home. (One of the great benefits of living in Nowhere, USA; you have lots of time to think while you drive.)

I didn’t know what I could do, but I decided that I would stop waiting. No more drifting along hoping vaguely for a fairy godmother or angel investor or lottery ticket to change the course of my life. I was going to do something.

(I had a job within three days; I moved out of my parents’ house a week after that. But that’s a different story.)

The only reason we know Cinderella – besides the nonsense with the glass slippers – is because her fairy godmother took matters into her own hands.

Cinderella was just waiting.

And she would have kept waiting forever if her fairy godmother had lost her address or her wand or her interest.

Waiting is easy. All you have to do is keep doing what you’ve always done. Sure, nothing will change, but you’ll never be surprised or disappointed. Dissatisfied, but not disappointed.

I love fairy tales, but I don’t live in one.

Neither do you.

Stop thinking like Cinderella. Stop waiting, and act.

What Will You Do to Prove You’re No Coward?

Dares haven’t moved me since I was seven or so.  I don’t care if anyone else thinks I’m a coward. Most people who care about dares are idiots. For evidence: the Darwin Awards.

But apparently I care a lot if I think I’m a coward.

I chickened out of something last week, and now I’m sorry.

I had an assignment from my business class to interview ten business owners. I talked to a few, but I didn’t talk to ten… mostly because calling strangers and asking them personal questions is outside my comfort zone.

Leaving the assignment incomplete bothered me, but not nearly as much as feeling like a coward.

So I started the new week looking for a way to prove my non-cowardice to myself.

And then someone announced a blood drive this Saturday.

Now, I have a thing about needles.

Not a fear of needles.

I assure you, when I walk across an empty parking lot after dark, I don’t look over my shoulder for any needles sneaking up on me. I don’t turn pale when I see a pack of needles in the craft section. When I was learning how to quilt and the sewing machine needle ran over my finger, it didn’t give me nightmares.

So not a fear.

But when the healthcare professionals in my life draw my blood to determine What’s Wrong With Her (‘There must be something to explain it,’ they say), I begin experiencing the following symptoms before the needle even touches my skin: shortness of breath, chills, dizziness, nausea, faintness, weakness, clamminess, blurred vision, buzzing in the ears….

It’s just a thing. Definitely not a phobia. Who needs one of those?

And I’m always very proud of the bandage they give me. Look! I want to say. I bled for this! And I didn’t even punch anybody for sticking a needle in me!

So, because it’s not comfortable to live with the ‘COWARD??’ label hanging around in my head, me and my thing are going to a blood drive this morning.

For the first time.

They’re going to take a whole pint.

(I am going to die.)

And maybe next time I need to do something uncomfortable, I’ll remember that it’ll be much less painful to do the uncomfortable thing now than to do the terrifying thing I come up with later to reassure myself of my non-cowardice.

I’m sure this says something about my character. Or my mental health.

Or both.

Wish me luck.

[Update: I live! And now I have this t-shirt. I won’t call it free, since I had to bleed for the darn thing, but it is a nice t-shirt. And with the COWARD label banished once more, all is well in the world. For now….. (ominous music)]