Don’t let the mistakes and disappointments of the past control and direct your future. ~ Zig Ziglar
Pain is one of the common denominators of the human experience. Although it inserts itself into our lives in different ways and is felt to varying degrees, every one of us has been hurt and disappointed. We have all felt emotional or physical anguish. Heartache can’t be explained or intellectualized, and it won’t be banished until our minds choose to let go. We can’t stop it from coming; the only choices we have are how to handle it, and whether to carry it forever or leave it behind in the dust.
If you are a writer (or an artist or an architect or a journalist or …), and you’ve poured heart and soul into your work and published it, you’ve also opened yourself to judgment. You’ve chosen a business where your creation is in the public eye. Your baby has been presented for readers to love, praise, criticize, scorn, and evaluate ad infinitum. Critics share their opinions and often slay us with it; some can be vindictive. It’s the nature of publishing; some readers will adore your work, and others will scoff at your talent and hang you out to dry. As Kristine Kathryn Rusch says, “one person’s crap is another person’s beloved book.”
This is the world you wanted to join. It’s part of the gig. You can sit in the corner and feel sorry for yourself, or you can suck it up and get tough. There’s a kernel of something usable in every heart-stabbing disappointment in life; your job is to find it, grow from it, pull yourself up, and get on with it.
Hugh Howey sums up the public’s right to chastise
“I believe in self-publishing, in the right for any and all to express themselves with words. .. I believe in the audaciousness of leaving that guitar case open while strumming on the streets. A free sample is there, a click on a product page no different than strolling for half a block while chords are played and the music washes over you. If it’s a discordant mess, others have the right to shout at you with 1-stars and tell you to shut up, to practice more, to grab their dollar back from the case or never place it there to begin with. They have the right to hurt your feelings, which is why expressing ourselves in public is so raw and dangerous. That danger comes with the territory.”
Feel the pain and move on
What should we do when we get slapped down? Take the high road and move on. Feeling wronged for a period of time and recreating the mental scenario daily are two different things. Reliving grievances, holding grudges, seeking revenge; these things won’t bring clarity. They won’t impact the perpetrator as much as they’ll damage us. Living a painful story over and over will only keep us stuck and give that memory the power to hurt again and again. We can’t allow crappy thoughts from the past to distort our chance for a happy tomorrow.
Success is the best revenge
Easy to say, but what should we do with the pain? How can we channel bad feelings into something good? If you’re a novelist, incorporate it into your work. As Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird, make the naysayer a character in your book. Change their appearance so no one will know; give them a beer belly and a lazy eye, make them suffer through syphilis and die a slow death staked to an ant hill in the scorching sun. Make it the best scene you’ve ever written. Sit under the trees off to the side with a glass of iced tea and watch. That’s the way a writer gets revenge. Use your pain to make your life better (I mean, of course, by writing more books!), not worse.
We’ve always had the power to decide how to feel and where our thoughts are focused. Our best opportunity for happiness is to stop rehashing yesterday’s hurts and concentrate on what’s fabulous about today. The only good reason to look back is to discover what’s holding you back. Then release yourself from it, turn your eyes forward again, and feel a sense of satisfaction about how far you’ve come.
Write your way out
Writing about our wounds can be an effective way to heal them. If you don’t write fiction, try composing a letter or use the journaling process to help you shake off old hurts and move forward. According to journaling advocate James Pennebaker Ph.D., “journalers who focused on the lessons they learned while they were writing about stressful events found peace in the process.” Here’s how:
Consider the situation that’s bothering you deeply one last time. Identify the pain, disappointment, jealousy or regret that is holding you back. If others are involved, there’s no reason to verbalize your feelings. In your journal or a letter, express every feeling: How they hurt you, what you lost, how the experience has changed you, what you’ve learned from the journey. Write until you’ve said everything you need to say, then destroy the message and move on.
You don’t have to be a writer grappling with bad reviews. Every human on this Earth has events in their past or present they struggle to overcome. Use your pen to resolve and release them so you can take your eyes off the rearview mirror, focus on this beautiful present moment, and create the future of your dreams.
Writing prompt/Exercise: Journaling about past regrets
Set aside half an hour when you won’t be disturbed. Choose a single topic and thoroughly examine how that specific event affected you. Use a “stream of consciousness” style and write down your feelings. Don’t be concerned about spelling or grammar!
Questions to explore:
- What’s keeping you stuck? What old hurts and ancient regrets are you holding on to?
- How has clinging to old feelings and events kept you from moving forward?
- Are you blaming yourself or others, or both?
- Consider your part: Did your choices contribute to what happened? If so, without placing blame, acknowledge the part you played that led to the negative outcome.
- Do you see a pattern? How can you take full responsibility for avoiding these and other, similar situations in the future?
- What actions will you take to choose different scenarios going forward?
- List the choices and behaviors you will no longer participate in.
Readers, what do you do when life is a challenge?
How do you deal with pain and dissapointment?
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