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I have a friend who’s a published author. Let’s call her Carolyn. Carolyn’s relationship with her literary agent was very good —right up until the point it wasn’t. After sending her agent four emails about an exciting new manuscript she’d been working on, along with four phone calls, Carolyn got the following in return (—————————). Those dashes BTW, are my typographical depiction of utter silence. I don’t know of any other way to express the regret, the exasperation, and the sense of humiliation that my friend Carolyn felt at being ghosted by someone she once thought of as an ally.
Last week Carolyn told me that she’d written to her agent again, one last time, to ask why she hadn’t been given the respect of getting even a one-line email, one that could have said: “I don’t have time for you. Good luck in the future.”
As you might have guessed, there was no reply to that email either.
My point here isn’t that people sometimes do things that are cruel; we all know that. Rather, it’s about taking stock of the ways these kinds of encounters can leave us bereft of the will to forge ahead with our lives. Perhaps more importantly, it is about a simple technique that we can use to recover our lost self-esteem. And all of us will lose it at one time or another.
Let’s look at what Carolyn is going through. She told me that she thinks about her now, ex-agent, several times a day. And that each time she thinks of him she doesn’t think: Wow, what an incredibly thoughtless dick.’ Instead, Carolyn turns the insult back on herself and thinks: ‘What did I do wrong? Did I say something awful to him that I’m not aware of? Has my work gotten so bad that he now thinks of me as an imposter?’
And here’s the question that comes up most often for Carolyn: ‘Am I an imposter?’
I’ll bet that if there were a blue cloud trailing every successful person who feels that they are somehow sneaking by on the basis of a lie, there would be more blue clouds than you could possibly imagine. And as I mentioned, those hypothetical clouds would be trailing people who are by any measure, highly successful. CEO’s, athletes, musicians, and writers, whatever —no matter how much money gets made, no matter how many home runs get hit, no matter how many books get sold, none of that quantitatively measured stuff does a thing to quell that nagging feeling we all get from time to time: ‘Am I an imposter.’
So, what’s at the root of all that negative thinking? It stems from the way human beings are wired. We have specialized parts of our brains that remain on constant alert for lethal threats. In earlier times (or in patently unsafe parts of the world today) we feared death from wild animals or warring tribes. For most of us though, the threats are not lethal, at least not in the physical sense. But in fact, as Carolyn can attest, they feel very lethal. They make us lose sleep, they make us question our value in the world, and they make us retreat from doing the thing that gives us the most pleasure —namely the pursuit of our own creative ideas.
As long as Carolyn remains in the throes of fear about her talent and self-worth, she will be utterly unable to write. The energy that Carolyn expends in that negative mindset is the antithesis of creative; it is more like a life-saving energy. Carolyn feels that if she is judged unworthy by her agent (a person who is assumed to know who is qualified to be a published author and who is not) then she truly has no real worth as a writer. And if she has no worth… Oy! It’s easy to see where this goes next. Carolyn fears, if only on a subconscious level, that she will be abandoned. And of course, Carolyn is no slouch intellectually. She’s already done the math and she knows full well that abandonment means actual death. Think about it. Who among us can live in isolation from the rest of humanity? No one. But you might say that Carolyn is taking things way too far, it’s just her agent after all, she’s not in any real jeopardy of being abandoned. Well, try using that logic on the subconscious mind. Try using that logic in the dead of the night when those perceived threats to your essential worth are the most injurious.
The antidote to Carolyn’s agent problem is quite simple. Carolyn needs only bear witness to what she’s feeling. She needs to take stock of the facts surrounding her feelings. Her agent, for whatever reason has acted like a total asshole. Carolyn needs to stop turning what he did to her back on herself. Easier said than done you say? Nope. It’s easy. The only thing Carolyn needs to do is keep on running the facts of the situation through her conscious mind again and again, to counteract the negativity coming from her subconscious. How to do that?
Carolyn must set the timer on her Smartphone for five minutes, open her laptop and write the following (or something similar) five times:
I, Caroline am a smart, capable, and good person. While I may not be a superstar writer, I am successful at what I do and I will not let the assholic actions of my ex-agent dictate a single one of my moods.
Next Carolyn must print out what she’s written and hang it in three places:
- On her bathroom mirror.
- On her refrigerator door, and
- On the wall next to where she writes everyday.
The effectiveness of this technique lies in its simplicity. The words Carolyn writes in this little exercise are a testament to the truth, to wholly verifiable facts. And little by little those facts will inform her subconscious mind that there is nothing to fear, that there will be no abandonment, and that through the release of her newly restored creative energy, there will be only joy and abundance.
June 5, 2019 at 08:29PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs