How to avoid terrible curses

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In April I told you people that an established publisher had contacted me wanting to know if I’d considered writing a book. I was naturally very flattered but unsure of what angle to take on it, so I appealed to you for feedback and you delivered. Thank you.

What I didn’t mention is that I had been contacted almost six months earlier, and I’d been stuck on it since then. I didn’t really know what kind of book I wanted to write. My post was intended to get me moving by creating public accountability and stirring up some ideas.

It didn’t, really. I pecked at it over the months, and a clearer outline began to emerge. I wasn’t in love with it, but it was something that could be built on. Yeah, I could pull this off, I thought sometimes.

Two weeks ago a literary agent contacted me, unaware that a publisher had already expressed interest, and it looked like it was a sign that now is the time. After avoiding it a bit more, I dug out my notes and got to work again. I ignored my doubts and kept putting words down.

What quickly happened surprised me. Saturday morning, on my 31st birthday, I had my first moment of clarity about what I should do. It hit me like a truck:

I have no desire at all to write a book right now. None.

And just like that, a yearlong spell of uncertainty dissolved. In hindsight it had been that way from the beginning, but I felt like that shouldn’t matter — the opportunity was so great. But there is no opportunity if the author isn’t interested. 

There is so much I have to say, so much I want to write, and none of it needs three hundred pages, not right now. A book is just not the right medium for me at the moment. A few years down the road it will probably be a different story.

I’m telling you this for two reasons. The first one is that a lot of people have been asking about the book and saying things like “I can’t wait to read your book” or “I hope you include this in your book.” Although I’m sure I qualified my original post by saying something may or may not come of this, a lot of people took my post as an announcement.

The other reason is to help you avoid becoming cursed. I let this thing compromise my mindset for a whole year because I didn’t trust myself, and I hope you don’t ever do that. I stuck with it because I felt there was so much to gain. By all accounts this was a golden opportunity and it’s a no-brainer to jump on it. If I wasn’t doing that then it must be because I’m afraid of rejection or imperfection and I just need to roll up my sleeves and do it.

I had so much encouragement, and I don’t want to blame anyone for encouraging me. I talked to a few people about my ambivalence about the book, and whenever I expressed doubts, uniformly they would tell me to think about all the enormous benefits of making this happen. I couldn’t deny it — there are bloggers tripping over themselves to get the attention of agents and publishers, and I had both, and was wasting it. What this book could actually provide for people never came up.

I often wished this had never happened. I can’t begin to describe what letting this fester has done to me this year. I’ve been irritable and down on myself. I’ve had a vague feeling of self-disappointment almost all the time, which I barely noticed until it was gone. For a year I couldn’t start any other project without guilt because then I was avoiding the most important thing of all. So if I didn’t work on the book, I didn’t feel right working on anything else. It was like a curse.

What a relief it is to put this down for good. Best birthday gift ever. I’ve had huge plans for Raptitude that I’ve just been sitting on because I felt like there was this super important thing I had to deal with first. I could have done so much work on what I actually love, if I didn’t feel like something else was more important. So there will be no print book coming out any time soon, but I’m finally free to bring you what I truly do want to work on. You’ll see what I mean in the coming months.

All kinds of desires kept me from pulling the plug on it, but they were all bad ones. I had the desire to avoid disappointing myself, to avoid the feeling of having squandered an opportunity, to avoid admitting to myself that this may not be a blessing after all (at least right now), to avoid telling people that that big thing I was talking about didn’t work out. All these motives are of the worst type: to avoid certain kinds of pain. If you ever want to make things go to hell fast, make avoiding pain your primary motivation.

We all know that “should” feeling. “Should” isn’t any kind of truth, it’s an emotion. It’s stubborn, irrational and usually negative. If the feeling of “should” is what makes you do something, then what you’re doing isn’t out of love at all.

That’s what I don’t ask enough: if I did this would I be doing it out of love? From the start, the notion of a book had a “target of opportunity” feeling. I just wanted to extract value from it. I didn’t really want to create anything, or provide anything. Before I was approached I didn’t have one lick of desire in my mind to undertake a print book. I felt an obligation to make good on the opportunity, not a desire to do good with it. If I didn’t know there was a difference, I do now.

That’s the curse right there: a preoccupation with extracting value, and a disinterest in creating value. Aesop should have drilled this into my head by kindergarten. Any enterprise concerned only with extracting value is cursed. Any person concerned only with extracting value is cursed.

I don’t like to force a spiritual-sounding moral out of every story, especially this one — I mainly wanted to keep you posted. But there’s a passage from Castaneda’s don Juan that’s just too appropriate to leave out:

Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question. This question is one that only a very old man asks. My benefactor told me about it once when I was young, and my blood was too vigorous for me to understand it. Now I do understand it. I will tell you what it is:

Does this path have a heart?

All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long, long paths, but I am not anywhere. My benefactor’s question has meaning now. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life.

***

Photo by Victor Bezrukov


gustavo October 11, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Not too many things indulge your ego as writing a book. It is one of those things you are supposed to want!

It’s very difficult to identify the reasons why we take this or that path. When we think about it, we often discover that we do what we are supposed to do. The truth is that we are not supposed to do anything.

Good thing you can tell the difference. It saves me twenty something bucks.

David October 11, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Haha… yeah just give me a year and I can figure anything out

Yankee Doodle October 11, 2011 at 11:48 pm

If one had the opportunity to win $1 million on a game show, but they didn’t win anything, the lost opportunity would curse most people for a long time possibly forever. Once the idea of “could’ve won a million but missed the chance” becomes implanted in the mind, it’s hard to not shake out the desire to alter the past. I think most people would be better off not having the lost opportunity to win a million than having it because once a really great opportunity slips away, our minds have a hard time letting go leading to regret. But the past cannot be altered and letting go of an unalterable past and realizing it can’t be altered is essential for moving on. But letting go is often difficult.

Do you think it’s a good idea to try and not be tempted by too many opportunities? Or is it a better idea to learn to cope with lost opportunities? Perhaps doing a little bit of both? I think lost opportunities are why hoarders accumulate a lot of stuff; they see all their stuff as opportunities and they keep the stuff around “just in case”. Discarding stuff means discarding opportunities. What’s a healthy way of balancing holding onto stuff (mental or physical) and letting go? Life is full of infinite possibilities, but we can only take advantage of a very narrow range of possibilities.

David October 12, 2011 at 6:33 am

I think it’s more important to learn to let opportunities go when the time is right. I have never been short of opportunities. They’re all over the place, I can’t avoid them.

marc van der Linden October 12, 2011 at 1:24 am

Great story, David!

It can be indeed struggle and a curse to fight against the plans of others, even when it seems to be very attractive from the out side.

It took you a year, but you did it!

Writing a book you don’t like is like living together with the most beautiful, attractive woman you ever can imagine, but you don’t love her. If it is not your choice, it just not will work in the long run.

I think life has infinite possibilities, but they only will appear when we are truly able to let go all ‘lost opportunities’ and are in balance with what we are.

Thanks for the inspiring story!

David October 12, 2011 at 6:34 am

I think that’s what took me so long. It looked attractive to everyone but me. But I didn’t trust my gut — I was looking for at least one other person to validate my thoughts about it before I cut it loose. Never again.

Célia October 12, 2011 at 4:28 am

Good for you! I made a very enthusiastic start on a blog a few months ago and haven’t added to it for ages, but you know what? I don’t feel like adding to it right now, and the bottom line is I don’t have to.
Maybe you’ll write a book one day, maybe you won’t. It doesn’t really matter as long as you are happy and doing things you love.

David October 12, 2011 at 6:38 am

That’s what it comes down to: do I honestly want to do this? And it’s not always easy being honest. For a while, when I felt like I didn’t want to do it, I wasn’t sure if that was true or if it was just cold feet.

Magdalena October 16, 2011 at 7:52 am

Ahhh. . . that is it in a nutshell, for me. How to tell the difference between . .. .”I really don’t want to do this.” and “I’m afraid to do this and have cold feet.”?
Thanks for sharing your story and your insight. It hit home.

Luey October 12, 2011 at 4:32 am

Yay!! David, I have to admit i am one of your many readers (albeit a new one to your blog) that have been wishing to read a book you write! But that said, I literally got chills reading your blog just now and I am quite sure that everyone that loves your writing and your blog will be celebrating you, acknowledging what is true and right for you (and it is really also great news for your blog readers!) So congratulations are truly in order! I want to add that it is so wonderfully affirming to read your words describing your experience of making choices similar to we all have to make each in our own way in life. The word “resonate” tends to be over used these days, but it just feels right to say that what I read here today did just that…ring all those bells that are in tune with my heart! Thank you, thumbs up, and “write-on”!

David October 12, 2011 at 6:39 am

Aw thanks Luey

Jeremy October 12, 2011 at 6:20 am

David you are an honourable man and that is great to see. Could you not, though, just suggest to the publisher that they print the best of Raptitude in book form, like an anthology (with a catchy title)?

David October 12, 2011 at 6:44 am

Both the publisher and the agent were clear that collections of blog posts do not really inspire book sales, and it would have to be more than that. It has to have a well-defined topic and premise, and a clear audience. I would have insisted on rewriting them all anyway. But the bottom line is that republishing what I’ve already written is something I don’t feel very excited about, and I don’t know who really needs that. It’s all here, for free.

Steve Mays October 12, 2011 at 8:08 am

Ahh. One of your best (must useful) posts yet. If and when the book is written, I look forward to reading it. But I don’t know how any book can be as fluid and organic as what you share here.

David October 12, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Thanks Steve.

Jess October 12, 2011 at 8:11 am

Favourite quote: ” If you ever want to make things go to hell fast, make avoiding pain your primary motivation.”

I need to tape this up somewhere!

It sounds like the weight of the world has been lifted off your shoulders. Enjoy :)

David October 12, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Story of my life, creating trouble by avoiding trouble.

Ali from Spinner's End December 1, 2011 at 10:59 am

I just wrote that quote down in my notebook. It’s been one of the uphill struggles of my life and seeing it stated so clearly made me laugh out loud from the recognition. Thanks David!

Joy Langtry October 12, 2011 at 9:00 am

David, I don’t care if you ever write a book. Just please don’t stop writing this blog… contemplating your perspective has enriched my life without question.

I have a friend who is a gifted musician, yet he is leaving behind his guitar and pursuing performance art and contact juggling. His friends and family keep reminding him of how good he is at music and I see now that we are afraid for him, because music is so common and familiar and contact juggling is so… huh? Well, it’s obviously his path with a heart.

Thanks again.

David October 12, 2011 at 7:50 pm

If you want to hear my views, they’ll always be available :)

nrhatch October 12, 2011 at 9:04 am

Happy Birthday!

And good for you for realizing that you don’t need to want out of life what others want out of life: Fear of future regret is not a positive reason for writing a book.

If you don’t want IT now, you may never want IT.

David October 12, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Thanks Nancy :)

katie October 12, 2011 at 9:33 am

in a blogosphere chock-full of ‘hustle’, your integrity is refreshing and inspires respect.

and ‘Aesop should have drilled this into my head by kindergarten’ is a fabulous line.

more power to you and your particular path through life.

Eric Pinola October 12, 2011 at 10:46 am

The Don Juan books are a great treasure trove of inspiring points of view.

Sergio Antunes October 12, 2011 at 10:59 am

I’m apalled with the honesty you have with yourself. It’s not easy to scrutinize feelings so carefully like you do!Congrats..

Maria October 12, 2011 at 11:00 am

Nothing is sacred. I mean the art of doing absolutely nothing creates sacred space. Hard to pull off though…

gem October 12, 2011 at 11:30 am

Blog .. Book … really none of us care as long as we get to read what you share with us. The form has no meaning.

Happy Birthday!

Steph in Berkeley October 12, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Whoa. whoa. congratulations on giving yourself the gift. and thanks for sharing the gift for us all.

Chris Walter October 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I can relate so much to this. I spent from January to August feeling completely incapable of starting my blog because I felt like I had to live up to the standards set by best in the blogosphere. But when I stopped thinking of what I should do and started looking at what I really wanted to do everything came together.

This is one of this lessons I have to keep working at.

Cris October 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Hi David! Nothing works if you haven’t got your heart in it. If you are happy with your decision you don’t need to excuse yourself for not doing it, that is all right. I have to disagree that all paths are the same, they are very different although they all lead to the same place, which I don’t think is nowhere. What matters is the journey, not the path though.

Natalie October 12, 2011 at 3:49 pm

There’s so much I love about this post and can relate to. The insights on extracting value vs creating value, on creativity being blocked because of this “thing” that you don’t want to do, but can’t seem to deal with head on .. and the ultimate freedom from authenticity! They’re all journeys I took this past year too. Maybe it was just a year to experience what authenticity means to us, through the contrast? :-)

Jane October 12, 2011 at 4:42 pm

I cancelled a job interview recently with a ‘Top 10′ company because I woke up the day of the interview and realised my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t think twice about it and only felt relief but many people I told thought I was mad to have done it.

It takes guts to say no, especially to an opportunity you’re supposed to want, even if you’re heart doesn’t. You did it, well done.

Jackie Paulson October 12, 2011 at 6:25 pm

I pray you do publish your book(S) and that you are successful. In the current bad economy I took a job doing Security but my heart is in writing, editing, publishing. I pray that I can conquer this.

Murali October 12, 2011 at 10:31 pm

David,

I couldn’t but laugh (in a good way :-)) reading this. You could be writing about me. For the last decade, yes 10 years, publishers have been asking me to write a book, and I kept saying no. Early this Summer, I said I will see, and now I have gone to blissfully ignoring the request. Now you see why I had to laugh.

Keep writing, and I will keep reading.

Belated returns of the day.

Murali

Jayce October 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm

I applaud your courage. I enjoy this format. It’s alive and changing. To me a book would feel like, “Hey, mate. Read this. Perhaps the answer’s in there somewhere.” Instead of this blog, which says, “Take my hand. We’ll try & sort this s&%t out together.” Raptitude helps people. It really, truly does. Thank you again, David.

Ornela October 13, 2011 at 5:05 am

I’m writing this response before I’ve even read the entire post, but I have too many thoughts running through my head and have to sort them out.

This is an interesting one David and if at all possible, I now respect you even more for the decision you made.

It’s perfectly obvious why publishers would want you under their wing and why readers would eagerly snatch your book off the shelves, be they real or virtual. You are so straight to the point, no nonsense, yet poetic, admirably balanced human being who is a true inspiration. You are not afraid to go out there and share your journey with your blog audience.

Now, I imagine all that spontaneity, all that organic evolution that you so generously share with us here – burdened by the agreements, contracts, deadlines and whether you like or not, measured by the external parameters of success. The magic of Raptitude as it is now would not be just watered down, but gone. In my opinion.

I often feel I too have so much to say and so much to write. To this day, and I tried it many times, I haven’t started my own blog. I find that I express myself best when I interact with people, in real life or virtually, and that even when I form strong views or want to share ideas, what I really feel and think does not come out that well when I “have to” put it down in words for the sake of writing a new post, but simply when I interact as primary form of expressing myself. If it makes any sense.

And that’s how I understood your own dilemmas around this idea of being published author. Unlike me, you express yourself and initiate discussions so well, but doing that with the aim of coming up with publishable material – that would not be it. I may be wrong. But I am so happy with the decision you made. Wait for the time and the opportunity that feels right for you. That’s what Raptitude is all about.

One more thing, speaking as as a book reader, I think one book would be just too much to read in one go. But, post by post, small digestible doses of getting better at being human – that’s just the perfect pace.

Now I’ll go and read the rest of the post :)

Maia October 13, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Only thing I can think of, is if you wrote a book in the style of your blog – short sharp chapters on different topics :-)
Not that I’m trying to break your resolve or anything :-)

Good luck with whatever you do,

Maia

Colleen October 13, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I really love this post – whenever you solicited input from readers about the possibility of a book, it just didn’t sit right with me, and I think I commented to that effect. The fact that you needed to ask readers about a creative endeavour indicated to me that something was wrong with your process.
Seems to me that M. Scott Peck said something about avoidance of legitimate suffering and pain being the cause of much mental illness.
And I love the part about “creating value” vs. “extracting value” – what a wise criteria for evaluating an opportunity.
But please don’t wish the opportunity had never happened – maybe the curse of the past year was legitimate pain; after all, without it, this post wouldn’t exist, you wouldn’t know what you know now, and we readers wouldn’t have been blessed by your experience.
I’ll never make another decision without asking myself whether the considered path has a heart.
Thank you, thank you!

Brad October 14, 2011 at 9:46 am

Congratulations on this David. It is a great feeling to throw that weight off your back.

Sarah October 14, 2011 at 11:05 am

Thank you, I was mulling over two options for Christmas:
Going home to the family
Or staying in this “exotic, amazing” foreign country, where I have been happy, but not genuinely, authentically happy.

Going home has an aura of “weakness” or “returning with tail between the legs”, along with the “should” of fully immersing oneself in a foreign culture, as it’s “such an experience”.

But, what’s an experience without a heart.
What’s Christmas without true friends.

This came at just the right time. You put into words exactly what I’ve been trying to tell myself. :)

Thank you, so much.

Love your blog, congratulations on the offer. That will make you smile on and off for years to come. Not having written the book doesn’t detract from the fact that YOU were so good you got an offer, out of so many people on that mass of land over there. You’ve not only gotten your many followers’ approval, but also approval from an objective source. I hope you’re damn proud of yourself. :)

Rosa Conti October 14, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Loved this entry, David — SO resonates with me. How many things/tasks/projects I aha’d about so passionately, so truthfully … but in the end, I knew if I did THAT, it wouldn’t leave time to do THIS or the OTHER THAT.

Happy wishes on your surprise next passion project!

Rosa :)

Larissa October 16, 2011 at 6:05 am

Dear David, I am very touched by your story. Thank you for sharing it. It’s always important to stay true to your heart and instincts. If something gets stuck it only means that your thoughts are not completely into it. All the best, Larissa.

Vilx- October 18, 2011 at 9:49 am

Well, here’s one thing I don’t understand: This, as well as many other posts both on your and other blogs, seem to say virtually the same thing: “Don’t do stuff that you don’t like; only do stuff that you do like.” Cute, but the fallacy here is obvious. So what’s the trick? How do you decide whether or not you should do “this thing that I don’t like to do”? When is it the wrong path without a heart, and when is it the obstacle behind which the heart lies?

David October 18, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I don’t think all I am saying is “Do what you like, don’t do what you don’t like.” Most people don’t particularly like exercising, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad choice for them. What I’m talking about is the motivation behind what we end up doing. I wasn’t coming to it with the intention of creating something useful. My intentions were to get a monkey off my back and to avoid feeling guilty. My heart wasn’t in it, and all I had to do to know that was to ask myself if it was. But I hadn’t yet.

Vilx- October 19, 2011 at 3:31 am

Hmm, I see. But does it follow then, that if I don’t like exercising (I know my “heart won’t be in it), I should not do it? Btw – I’m not trying to criticize your decision or anything. I too think that it was the right thing to do. I’m just trying to understand the more global principle, since I know I’m having problems with this myself. (So yeah, sorry for trying to drag the discussion in another direction. If you feel that this isn’t the right place for it, I’ll cease. Also, if you or someone else has already covered this in another post already, just point me in that direction)

David October 19, 2011 at 6:33 am

I think I said this before but whether your heart is in it isn’t the same as whether you like doing it. It’s really an intuitive principle, not an intellectual one, so I don’t think it would help to explain. “Are you doing it out of love or not?” is maybe the closest question. It is possible to exercise out of an aversion to ourselves, and also out of love for ourselves.

Vilx- October 19, 2011 at 7:48 am

I see. Well, I’ll think about it. Though, to be honest, I can’t imagine right now how one could do something out of love and yet not like doing it. Not intuitive to me.

Jeff October 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm

I used to pride myself in the fact that I “took ample time to think a decision over”. But I have recently discovered that this was not accurate. “I give myself time to convince myself to do something I don’t want to” is probably more accurate. Thanks for the article David, it reinforces this theory.

Roku October 27, 2011 at 2:04 pm

OMG, are you me? Hah! I had a very similar realization earlier this year, and wrote a post about it for my friends that said a lot of the same things. And yet, I still know that “should” feeling too well in other areas of life. It’s different reading someone else’s take on these feelings, so thanks for giving me something to reflect on!

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