Desperate Times


I realized recently that the only endeavors I’d had any success with in my life were those things I thought it would be fun to do. Whether it was write and publish a book, or teach a workshop, or coach clients, I started having success when I thought it would be fun to write, teach, or coach. And the operative word there is thought. I can have fun doing a lot of things once I’m doing them, but if I don’t think it will be fun to do something, I usually avoid doing it.

This is particularly important for writers. It is easy to lose track of the fun in writing and allow desperation to creep into its place. How often in my darker days I’d think, “I have to publish this book.” As soon as I thought this it was almost guaranteed I wouldn’t. I know the threat of failure, of starvation, of extinction is supposed to snap our minds into clarity, but I find desperation confusing. The idea that if something doesn’t happen then all my effort will have been wasted plunges me into a nightmare where the future is a dangerous place filled with misery I must do all I can to avoid.

This is what desperation does to me. In its throes I am stricken with a hallucinatory blindness so that all I can see is what I don’t want. I don’t know how to not create what I don’t want. And so I don’t know what to do, and so I think, “I can’t do this,” and so it doesn’t happen. It’s faithfully predictable.

On the other hand, if I think it would be fun to do something, if I think it would be cool or interesting or inspiring, ideas come to me for how I might do it. Just as when I’m writing a story, these ideas might not come all at once. Sometimes I have to wait, tapping my chin thinking, “It would be so cool to do that. How could I do it?” I don’t mind this waiting because I am waiting with a thought of how to do this very cool thing. It’s almost like I’m already doing it, for the waiting requires me to rest in how I believe it will feel when I am doing what I want to do.

This can be hard to remember as an adult. We sometimes reserve fun for children, weekends, or retirement. This, I believe, is the source of Thoreau’s “quiet desperation.” What is the value of a life if we have cordoned off the best parts for when our work is done? I can’t see any. I can see only desperation, a ceaseless yearning in which all I know is that I want to be happy again.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.