by Jennifer Paros
Recently I was listening to a radio program in which Marc Allen was being interviewed. Marc Allen is one of the founders of New World Library–a very successful publishing house—and has written a book entitled Type- Z Guide to Success: A Lazy Person's Manifesto to Wealth and Fulfillment. On the show he talked about how years ago, when he had just turned thirty and was unemployed with no money, he decided to do an exercise he had heard of called “Ideal Scene.” In “Ideal Scene” you write down the best life scenario (or where you’d like to be in five years) you can imagine for yourself. To his surprise he wrote of starting a successful publishing company and writing books. He’d had no experience with either, and as he considered his newly-focused goals and dreams he heard the voice in his head question him vehemently. The voice claimed he was too lazy and undisciplined, that the way he liked to do things was antithetical to achieving what he wanted; it would be impossible.
Marc Allen decided to give himself a year of doing things His Way–his lazy, sleep-until-11:00, take-a-couple-hours-to-acclimate-before- attempting-anything way. He made a deal with that voice–the voice of doubt and fear–that he would only do things in the way that he preferred and which came natural to him, and if it didn’t work in a year, well . . . then the experiment was over. In a year’s time, he had started his publishing house.
There is a famous Dolly Parton quote that says, “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.” Whenever I used to think of this quote, I felt inspired. Yes, Yes! Be who you are. I like that! But When I started considering what it really meant, however, I had a hard time understanding how to take the directive. For Dolly, it seems it was fairly straightforward and involved both a particular style and an understanding that she could use that image and persona to best express herself and what she wanted to offer. I’ve heard her speak of her childhood appreciation of the streetwalker’s aesthetic, and instead of condemning herself for her love of what those around her judged as cheap, she allowed it. But what about me? What’s my thing?
The other day, I was struggling while working on my book. I knew I didn’t want to be writing, but I wanted to make myself write. I was entertaining the notion that perhaps I would feel happy ultimately if I went ahead and sacrificed peace of mind and joy now. It seemed like I really needed to be firm with myself and get something done. I knew I was on the wrong track however, and had been considering experimenting with allowing myself to do things without the Draconian touch. So I decided to let myself out of jail and go another way. I chose to draw (I am a writer and artist, and draw for my own stories) instead. I would just draw anything, and I would even allow myself to have music on (which, to the voice in my head, seemed like giving up on productivity all together).
So, I turned on the music and began. It wasn’t long before I started feeling better. I was connected to the work, but I was being gentle and undemanding with myself about how I would get where I was going. After a bit of drawing, and still some toying with mournfulness over not being “productive enough,” I heard myself think: “I wish I could just draw like this and be this relaxed with things and listen to music and that the book would come together this way.” And then I wondered: “Well, why couldn’t it?”
I went on to spend the next days drawing in this fashion, which led me to writing more notes, which led me to outlining the story, which led me back to writing. Gradually, I am beginning to understand that the struggle was not over the work, but the conflict between the Voice in my Head’s Way and My Authentic Way. And the more I can line up with my way, even if I judge it as unproductive for the moment, the easier the process.
So, my experiment of suffering now and collecting my happiness later hadn’t really panned out. If we try to approach writing (or anything) as solely a commitment to our goals and try to “make it happen” without accepting our unique approach, we are going to feel uncomfortable and incapable because we will be unwittingly rejecting the tools we have that will help us reach those goals. We’re destined to struggle and feel deficient because without even knowing it, we will be fighting against that which we need in ourselves to succeed.
Perhaps Marc Allen—who is now a multi-millionaire, has written numerous books, and runs a publishing house—isn’t actually Lazy, and perhaps Dolly Parton isn’t actually tacky and cheap. Maybe those “truths” about them could have been lived out in a self-defeating way, but once allowed and married to their Dreams worked in service to those inspired goals and so became transformed. Those ideas were just judgments about how they were supposed to be that might have kept them stuck and struggling if they hadn’t been smart enough to give their own way a chance instead.
Here’s to Your Way.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.