I feel depressed when I read those notices in newspapers or chat with others about people’s multiple accomplishments. Compared to me, everyone in the world seems to be a raving success. They publish several novels a year, start businesses, win awards, are asked to speak at conferences and, even more, get paid for it! They run marathons in their spare time, make the “top ten” list in whatever subject interests them, say cooking or astronomy or cup-stacking competitions. Even worse, they write, call, email and blog about what they’ve done, to the point I want to avoid meetings and acquaintances, reading my mail, or communicating in any fashion, even smoke signals.
Maybe you’re challenged or energized by such information. Not I. When I was a kid, I fell for the Great American Dream. Anyone can be president or a millionaire, if you just try hard enough. I’ve learned that’s not true. Take my primary interest: writing books. UNESCO reports more than 300,000 books were published in the US in 2013 (fiction and nonfiction, as well as new editions of old books). I can’t name 3000 people I know, let alone 300,000 or the books they might read. I may have owned 10,000 books myself over the course of my life. Realistically, the odds of me or anyone selling tons of books are miniscule. In the realm of fantasy, everyone’s doing it.
I have a friend with an even more aggravated sense of inferiority than mine. Take her to a group in which friends mention their thriving children or a promotion on the job, and she refuses to see them again. I try to tell myself to be realistic, my life is going fine. But the sounds of all these folks beating their own drums and tooting their own horns makes me deaf and discouraged.
A change of attitude seems required. I’ve heard about two studies on the secret to happiness. One claims that people who are mildly self-delusional are happier than realists. The young woman sashaying across the club floor thinking all eyes are on her is more contented than the model who constantly seeks flaws in her appearance. So, for example, if I decide I’ve written the very best novel in the world, I’m better off believing that than comparing my work to National Book Award winners.
The second study says those with low expectations are happier than individuals with high expectations. That means my approach to getting published years ago, when I assumed I’d eventually win the Noble Prize for Literature, was almost guaranteed to make me frustrated and discouraged; whereas a writer who never expected any work to appear in print is overjoyed to produce a chap book of her own poems.
Since today, the day I’m writing this, heralds a new year, here are my resolutions:
* Talk myself into mild self-delusion, that I am, in fact, climbing mountains, achieving wonders, and becoming the best (if not best-selling) author in the world;
* Set my expectations in every arena very low. Rather than striving to lose 30 pounds, shoot for one. No more trying to write every day; a couple of times a week is fine. Forget hoping for world peace, a pleasant “good morning” from a neighbor’s fine.
Then I’ll be out bragging, tooting my own horn, and endlessly broadcasting on FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest, whatever, with the best of ‘em.