Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Imaging Yourself Successful? Don't

Sharon Wildwind

If you want to do something well, imagine yourself doing that thing well. If you want to be successful, visualize yourself as already being a success. Imagine every detail as perfect. Allow no room for the slightest imperfection in our dream.

Does this sound like every self-help book or guru you’ve ever read or heard? I offer another possibility. That kind of visualization isn’t a roadmap to success, it’s a dark and devious trap. Why?

Because most of us aren’t nearly creative enough with our imaginations. We turn our hopes for our big, bigger, biggest days into something no self-respecting Hollywood screen writer would write.

My vision is that I’m having lunch at a top New York restaurant — I like Italian, so how about Del Posto’s on 10th Avenue — with an editor from a big publishing house.

Between the Lobster Salad Oreganata and the Porcini Ravioli with Chestnuts she tells me how much she loves my work. She says I’m the author she’s been waiting years to find. By the Rare Wild Salmon over Perilla she waxes poetic about how she and I are going to build a fabulous career for me. As we linger over our Butterscotch Semifreddo, and designer expresso, she says she hopes I’m as excited as she is because she can’t wait to get started.

What’s wrong with imagining that?

It’s powered by the same infinite improbability drive as Zaphod Beeblebrox’s ship, Heart of Gold in the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. Remember that device (temporarily) turned Ford Prefect into a penguin, and did bad things with a million-gallon vat of custard. It’s not something I want to mess around with.

Here’s what my imaginary afternoon would probably really be like.

It will be not just raining. but pouring. Maybe there is even a hurricane off the coast waiting to make landfall. Liz knows far better than me the likelihood of getting a cab during a NYC downpour, but I’m betting it’s not good. I arrive at the publisher’s office with damp, flat hair; mud splattered stockings, and squishy shoes.

My editor apologizes profusely, but an unexpected telephone conference has been scheduled in an hour and would it be okay if we go around the corner to a mom-and-pop Italian ristorante where we can be served quickly? Okay, so it’s still Italian, so I say fine.

Before the waitress hands us menus, my hostess tells her that we are in a hurry, so could we have green salad and the spaghetti special? I can get green salad and spaghetti in Calgary! I console myself with the thought there might be a gooey dessert later.

It turns out to be fascinating to watch how she can eat and talk at the same time. I’m eating, at least I think I’m eating because food is disappearing from my plates, but what I’m mostly doing is taking notes on napkins of all the things she’s telling me I have to do now.

No time for dessert, of course. It’s back through the rain to her office where she shakes my hand, says she’s looking forward to us building a working relationship, and do I mind telephone calls after 10:00 PM?

She hands me off to a second associate editor, who takes me to her tiny office and reviews my contract with me in excruciating detail. I’m not sure I understand half of what she’s telling me. Finally she hands me two copies of the contract, suggests that if I have any questions, I should get my entertainment lawyer to look at it before I sign. And please return the signed copies to her by next week.

Once more into the rain, dear friends. Back to the ristorante, I think, where the waitress recognizes me, finds a towel so I can dry my hair, and brings me something gooey and another cup of expresso. I sit by the window eating, drinking, and thinking that I don’t know an entertainment lawyer. I don’t even know if there is one in Calgary, and if there is, I bet he or she costs big bucks.

Somewhere between the wet wool, garlic, and coffee smells, as I watch through the window ordinary New Yorkers going about their lives in the rain, I realize I’m about to make one of the biggest decisions of my life and nothing, absolutely nothing I’ve every imagined came close to how wonderful, funny, and aggravating this afternoon has been.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t imagine good things happening to us in the future. I’m saying we need to build in enough high stakes, humor, and humanity to make what we imagine come as close to real life as possible. We’d do that for our characters, wouldn’t we? 

Quote for the week
I can honestly say - and it's a big surprise to me - that I have never had a dream about being on the moon.
~ Neil Armstrong, (1930 – 2012) naval aviator, test pilot, aerospace engineer, astronaut, and university professor


Sheila Connolly said...

First: congratulations. You've made it to a place that many, many talented writers hope and strive for.

Second: you've got the right attitude. It's fine to imagine the lovely elegant lunch, the warm relationship, the grand promises--why not? But you aren't insulted or hurt when it doesn't pan out because you recognize it as a happy fantasy. You've still got the deal, and maybe in a few years (and a lot of sales), your perfect lunch will happen.

Anonymous said...

This is right on the dot of probably true! You deserve a gold star for your honesty! Those of us who live in the Big Apple know how true your tale is! Both sides - the illusions, the reality! I've had agents who promised the earth, all wrapped up in a solid gold ribbon! And I've been to that same restaurant you mention! And had that same menu! Thelma in Manhattan

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

LOL, Sharon. The one time I had lunch with my then Big Six then editor, it was a nice restaurant, but I discovered that she had a policy of not talking about business while out to lunch. She even brought her assistant along to make sure there was enough small talk. Oh, and the most effective way to get around Manhattan on a rainy day? Take the subway. :)

Sharon Wildwind said...

It's a two-sided coin, isn't it?

We want that fairy-tale event, but most of us realize it would be more like that famous line from Walter Cronkite's You Are There, "What kind of a day was it? It was a day like any other, except you were there."

Ohh, Thelma, what a treat to have gone to Del Postos.

Liz, I have some subway tokens left over from the Washington, DC subway. Guess I couldn't use them in NYC.