Choosing Our Emotions

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: Can we choose our emotions? Can we, as the little art piece (above) that I picked up at the discount store directs, Choose Joy?

More and more I’m starting to believe we can. And there are studies that are starting to suggest the same.

The Invisibilia podcast (NPR) has a segment on Emotions that discusses just that (part 1, part 2; I can’t remember which part addresses it more directly but both parts are interesting). The idea that our emotions are much more under our control—much more of a choice—than we’ve ever believed. That we do, in fact, choose our emotions, whether we know it or not.

Mel Robbins (TED Talker on The 5 Second Rule), in fact, believes that the emotions we fall into most easily are largely habit, and can be changed. I can’t find a direct link to her expressing that idea, but I’m 90% sure she’s said it, and regardless, I believe it. Our brains love habits, including habitual emotions. If we’re used to feeling defeated, we immediately go to defeat when something bad happens. But the good news is, she (and I) believe we can change that.

Then, too, there are new studies that suggest our gut is much more responsible for our moods than our brains are. The enteric nervous system (the gut), or “the second brain,” contains 100 million neurons, “more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system. … A big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut.” The foods we eat—and, I’ll point out, we choose what we eat—play a big role in determining our moods.

What does this mean? Well, I can tell you that when I eat sugar (hello, Halloween candy!), I can get depressed. What’s more, when I eat sugar (or drink alcohol, which is also sugar) I don’t sleep as well, which means the next day I’m sleep-deprived, which also contributes to an unsavory mood. Everything is connected. There are many people talking about this—some of them with other controversial ideas, so it’s important to maintain critical thinking. But my own experience suggests that food affects moods, and I think more study is warranted.

I find the ideas compelling—and hopeful. If my emotions are under my control, to at least some extent, then I get to choose. This comes with a responsibility and accountability; I don’t get to just claim victimhood and give up. If I’m in a mood and I let it continue, then that’s on me. We tend to cling to our bad moods—I do it too, sometimes—because it’s easier to feel bad than to do what we need to to do fix whatever ails us.

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding these ideas. Much more research needs to be done, but whether that will happen is somewhat doubtful. For one thing, we want pills, not hard work. For another thing, the multi-billion-dollar depression industry doesn’t want us to believe we can heal ourselves. And, people do like to cling to their misery. Don’t shoot me. You know it’s true.

To clarify: It’s not just about saying “I’m going to be happy now instead of angry!” —although that’s definitely part of it. It’s also a commitment to choosing actions and behaviors that affect our moods. Sugar can lead to depression and poor sleep, so I choose to eat less sugar. Exercise has been proven to be as effective as anti-depressants (plus it feels so good … afterward!), so I am choosing daily exercise. I know that having a tidy house makes me feel more calm and peaceful, so I try to keep it clean. Reviewing my list of Values and Beliefs every morning helps me stay focused on what matters in my life, which helps me feel connected to my purpose and self, which helps me feel happy. Everything is connected. Every choice we make throughout the day can contribute to our wellbeing. It’s a matter of recognizing that, and making for better choices.

I said it’s about choices; I didn’t say it wasn’t work. It’s work, but it’s worth it. To change our lives, we have to get a little uncomfortable. To change our lives a lot, we have to get a lot uncomfortable.

So these days, I am working to learn to change my habits, to choose my actions and behaviors that affect my moods, to choose my emotions, to Choose Joy. I believe we can do it. It may not be easy but I think it’s worth a try.

P.S. As of today I’m working to get back into daily blogging. Working to flex the writing muscles, as well as the vulnerability muscles that come from posting something before it’s perfect. I hope you’ll check in again.

 

What I Know For Sure

In her interviews, Oprah often likes to ask people a thought-provoking question: What is one thing you know for sure?

I’m an agnostic about most things, and a scientist at heart. I know I’m not omniscient, and I know the difference between “know” and “believe.” While I have strongly held opinions on many topics, I know there’s room to grow.

After all, as TED Talker Kathryn Schulz showed us, being wrong feels exactly the same as being right (up until we find out we were wrong, anyway).

Having said that, though, there’s one thing I’m pretty certain about.

We can’t learn anyone’s lessons for them.

A few years back a friend of mine was in a relationship that I knew would never work out. I could see exactly where it was going and I knew it was doomed.

She, however, was floating on air and dreams, and saw only hope.

I could have stepped in and quashed her fantasy; after all, I had seen it many times before and I knew the ending to that story.

But also—from experience—I knew she wouldn’t listen. See above: being wrong feels the same as being right. She was convinced she was on the right track.

And what’s more, who was I to decide I knew better? Or, who was I to assume I knew what lesson she needed to learn? Who was I to believe I knew how it would turn out?

When we see someone we care about traveling down what seems to be a dangerous road, we want to step in with our sage advice. We don’t want to see the ones we love fall. We want to protect them, keep them safe, prevent them from ever being hurt. Even though it is by falling, by being hurt, that we ourselves have learned our best lessons.

Of course if someone asks for our opinion, we can give it. We can always share the wisdom of our experience, and our own fears for what lies ahead. But in the end, we can’t learn someone else’s lessons for them.

The best we can do is to let them fall on their own terms, and, if it turns out we were right, then be there with our whole hearts and our unconditional love to help pick them back up.

The Perfect Guest Room

Photo: Annie Spratt / unsplash.com

I recently had guests in my home, and I recently was a guest in someone’s home, which has me thinking about what is included in the perfect guest room. What would you add?

  • Comfortable pillows: Don’t just use the guest room as a graveyard for your old pillows that are too flat for you to use anymore. Your guests don’t want to sleep on a rock any more than you do!
  • Snuggly sheets: Sleeping in someone else’s home can be awkward. Soft sheets make it better.
  • Wifi connection information: A notecard or something that lists your network connection name, and your password.
  • Emergency phone numbers and other local information
  • Easily accessible outlet plugs — if your outlets are behind furniture in the guest room, connect extension cords so your guests can recharge easily.
  • A flat, empty space for your guests to put luggage
  • Bedside table
  • Lamp near the bed that can be turned off from the bed (so your guests don’t have to navigate the route from the light switch to the bed in the dark)
  • iPhone charger cord and USB to wall charger adapter (some lamps now have a USB port in the base; if you’re looking to buy a lamp for the guest room, it’s something to consider)
  • Empty hangers in the closet
  • Garbage can: This seems obvious but I’m surprised how often a guest room is without one!
  • Mirror, and an outlet or extension cord near the mirror for drying hair or whatever they may need
  • Tissues
  • Towels and washcloths
  • Bottles of water or glass for water
  • Extra toothbrushes, travel shampoo, conditioner, and lotion
  • Pen and a pad of paper
  • Extra blankets
  • Some good books (may I suggest these?)
  • Fluffy robe and disposable slippers (if you want to get really fancy!)
  • House key

What have I forgotten?

 

Q&A: Catching Up with Jón Gnarr, Writer, Comedian, and Former Mayor of Reykjavík

Jón Gnarr, former Mayor of Reykjavík, as the mayor in his TV show, The Mayor

 

In 2013, I traveled to Iceland to write the first of my travelogues, Pam on the Map: Iceland. One of my favorite experiences in Iceland was meeting and talking with Jón Gnarr, who was the Mayor of Reykjavík at the time and had been called “the world’s most interesting mayor.” We had a great chat about everything ranging from politics to happiness (the full transcript of the interview is in the book), and he left a real impression on me not just as mayor but as a truly fascinating, honest, and candid person.

Shortly after my book came out, Jón left office (having decided not to run for a second term) and started writing books of his own. Every now and then I still hear about him, and he’s stuck in my mind as one of my favorite interviewees. I was curious about life after mayorhood, so I decided to follow up. Here’s our latest Q&A!

Pam Stucky: Last we saw each other, you were a few months away from the end of your term as Mayor of Reykjavík. You hadn’t told the public yet whether you were going to run again, but in my book, based on my meeting with you, I predicted you would not. I was right! Any regrets in not running for a second term?

Jón Gnarr: No regerts!

[PS: I edited the above to “No regrets,” and Jón explained to me he meant it as he sent it—”It’s a tattoo joke“!]

PS: You entered office due to a bit of turmoil in Iceland. As everyone knows, the US has a bit of turmoil of its own these days. Do you see any parallels?

JG: There are many similarities. I think your next political surprises are going to come from the cities. I would not be surprised if some cities would even declare independence. I’m not sure how it works but it seems inevitable. I think it’s just a matter of time, a logical next step in civilization when cities become self governing and sovereign city states. The cities are growing while rural areas are not and democracy is bound to adapt to this and hence become more efficient. There will be another global economic crisis in 1 or 2 years and I think this will start happening after that.

PS: Any predictions on the future of US government? Any advice to people in the US on how to navigate these tumultuous days?

JG: The real political power in this country is not in Washington but in Hollywood and it’s growing. Expect the best but be prepared for the worst! That motto really applies to all life in general; health, family, politics, love, books, Hollywood and everything else.

Jón on book tour

PS: You’ve been busy since you left office! I’ve seen you out on a lot of promotional tours! Tell me a bit about your books?

JG: I enjoy writing. Last year I published the last book in a trilogy I had been writing since 2005. My books are translated into many languages and I try to follow, show up and do readings and interviews. I am thankful and honoured. The English translation of my last book will come out next month with Deep Vellum books.

Celebrating the first draft of his latest book

PS: The other day you tweeted that you’ve finished the first draft of yet another book. What is this one about?

JG: I am writing a book about my wife Joga. When she was 19 she was in a terrible car accident in New York and had to seek justice through the court system. She won and changed some law in this country. But with a prize. I am trying to tell her story.

Borgarstjórinn / The Mayor — TV show which Jón wrote and starred in

PS: You’ve been writing a lot. What else have you been doing? Have you done any more comedy?

JG: Last year I wrote a television series about a man who is the mayor of Reykjavík. I also starred in it as the mayor. And I co-wrote and directed the annual comedy special in Iceland. Now I have a residency at Rice University in Houston and I am also teaching a class in creative writing at UH.

Jón’s book, The Outlaw

PS: I see on Twitter that on your current tour (for The Outlaw,) you are not just promoting your books, but also a food called lifrarpylsa. I looked it up and apparently it’s “Icelandic haggis” or “liver haggis.” Tell me about your love affair with lifrarpylsa and why you’re showcasing it on the road. Is it as good as hákarl (rotten/fermented shark, supposedly a national dish of Iceland)?

JG: Hahahaha! Lifrarpylsa is one of many Icelandic delicacies. On my long train rides in Germany I posted pictures of it on Twitter. It was mostly for my personal enjoyment. I was raised on this thing. It may not look very good but I love it. Hákarl is Sunday snack but lifrarpylsa is a solid companion on any other day. You have it for breakfast sour with porridge. Lunch, fried on a pan and for supper boiled with potatoes and rutabaga. But always a treat. Most Icelanders can’t afford hákarl anymore but lifrarpylsa is cheap. And always will be.

Lifrarpylsa on tour
Lifrarpylsa on tour in the shower

PS: I’ve also noticed a lot of tweets from you about the Icelandic naming system. Can you give us a brief background on the tradition/law, and why it is controversial?

JG: Oh, don’t get me started. So we have this gullible naming tradition. Men should be called Magnus and women Gudrun. And we have a law. Anyone who’s not named Magnus or Gudrun must apply to a naming committee. Surnames are banned. And you can not name a boy Gudrun for it’s a girls name. A few years ago the committee sent a note to a young woman who’s name is Blaer and told her she had to stop using it because they decided her name was a boys name. I could write a whole book about it. And maybe I should?

Selfie

PS: Do you ever miss being Mayor? What do you miss? If you were Mayor again right now, what would you focus on in Reykjavík?

JG: No I never miss being a mayor. I sometimes miss the people I used to work with. I got to know some really good people in city hall. If I was mayor today I would probably try to focus on affordable housing for young people.

PS: What else is on your mind these days? Anything else you’re passionate about that you want to share?

JG: I am passionate about many things. The Icelandic language is one. I want to fight to keep it alive and I do so by speaking it and writing it. So, takk og bless!

PS: Þakka þér, Jón! Gæta skal þess, og ég vona að við spjalla aftur fljótlega!

Follow Jón on Twitter and Facebook.

Pam is the author of several books including her latest, a mystery, Death at Glacier Lake, as well as the Wishing Rock series (Northern Exposure-esque contemporary fiction, with wit, wisdom and recipes); the Pam on the Map travelogues (traveling the world with wit and wanderlust); and the Balky Point Adventures (YA sci-fi fantasy adventure with wonder and wisdom, a mix of Doctor Who and A Wrinkle in Time).

Pam’s first YA sci-fi adventure novel, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse, is currently available FREE online, along with thought-provoking and skill-building activities for parents, educators, and students to work on together.

Follow Pam on Facebook and Twitter.

10 Things I Learned About Life from Writing 10 Books

This month, I published my tenth book: Death at Glacier Lake, my first mystery.

But publishing my tenth book in the year 2017 wasn’t a given.

At any moment, our future lies in front of us, infinite paths waiting to be taken. 

(For thoughts related to this, see one of my favorite—and most popular—posts, “Why I Still Love The X-Files,” which is not so much about The X-Files as it is about love, and the passage of time, and hope.)

Growing up, I always thought I would write a book “one day.”

Then, one day, realizing I didn’t know how many days I had left, I decided my “one day” had arrived. Not knowing what would come of it, and giving myself full permission to fail, I started writing.

Ten books later, I know that decision was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My world has changed, my life has expanded, my courage and gratitude grow every day.

Here are ten lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. You have to start.

It’s obvious, right? But at the same time, you have to do it. My thought that “one day I would like to write a book” wasn’t enough. I had to actually do it.

Elizabeth Gilbert tells the story of a friend of hers who runs marathons. Apparently (I’m not a runner), at the end of the race, everyone is listed by their finish times. Beyond that, there’s the DNF list—Did Not Finish.

But Elizabeth’s friend told her that in her mind there’s another list: DNS, Did Not Start.

Even if you come in “last,” just by being in the race you’re ahead of millions of people who Did Not Start. 

You have to start.

You can’t finish the marathon without running the first mile, or the tenth, or the twentieth.

You can’t get to the thousandth step without taking the first. 

Some people don’t want to start because they’re worried they won’t “get it right” the first time. I’ll save you the suspense: you won’t get it right the first time. Of if you do, it’s a fluke. Beginner’s luck. If there’s something you want to do, something you want to be, you will fall a lot along the way. But you can’t improve if you don’t start.

My eighth and ninth books (the Balky Point Adventures series, MG/YA sci-fi adventure) and my tenth (Death at Glacier Lake)are my absolute favorites of all the books I’ve written. But could I have written them if I hadn’t written all the others? Definitely not. Everything that came before informed and shaped those books. If you don’t start, you can’t get to where you want to go. 

2. You don’t have to know the exact path to or location of your dream. You just have to start walking.

(This one is also in my personal manifesto.)

I said above that some people are afraid to start because they’re worried they won’t get it right. But what about the legions of us who don’t start because we don’t know where we want to go?

That’s okay. You don’t have to know where you’re going. Just start moving.

I often imagine a giant, open, empty field, with infinite paths branching off of it. If you don’t know where you want to go, what you want of your life, you might end up standing there in the field, paralyzed by indecision. But where does that get you? If you see a path that looks interesting, try it. Follow your curiosity. You can always change paths. You can always backtrack. Any movement at all will tell you something. It might tell you you’re on the right path, or it might tell you that it’s not for you, after all. Along the way you’ll pick up other wisdom and information about what you do or don’t want in life. Don’t let yourself be stuck by the idea you have to know your final destination, or that you have to know what your dream is before you can start moving. You don’t. You just need to get moving.

Is writing books what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life? I have no idea. But it’s what I’m doing right now, and it’s taking me places I never imagined, and that alone is worth the journey.

3. Success isn’t what you think it is.

Many of us have in the back of our minds—or even in the front of our minds—a very shallow idea of success: money, fame, prestige, power. That’s success, right?

Well, by some measures, sure. But not by the measures that really count. Sure, those things are nice (I’ve heard), but what I’ve come to believe is that true “success” is simply synonymous with “trying.” Making the effort. Being in the game. Letting yourself be vulnerable and trusting yourself enough to know that when you fall, you will be able to get back up. At its most basic, purest level, that’s success.

I’ve heard it said that success isn’t the absence of failure; it’s the result of failing enough.

The most successful people will often tell you they’re successful because they failed more than their competitors ever dared to.

The kind of “success” most people aim for is really just a moment. The moment you win the game (but there’s another game ahead that you might lose). The moment your book is on the bestseller list (but the next one could flop). The moment you have everything you ever dreamed of (but you could lose it all).

But those moments are fleeting and ephemeral. The true satisfaction of life—the true success—comes from making the effort, being a participant in your own life, every day. 

Success comes from showing up. In your life, and in the lives of the people and causes that matter to you. From living your values and priorities, not just talking about them.

I have not yet made any bestseller lists, but I’m showing up for my life; I’ve reached a point where I know, every day, I’m building and living a life that I love. To me, that’s success.

4. Failure isn’t what you think it is.

The converse of the above is true, as well: if success is “trying,” then failure is nothing more than “not trying.” That’s it. “Failure” doesn’t mean “making mistakes”; it’s not “falling short.” Aside from mistakes made due to negligence or lack of attention, everything else builds toward success. If you’re making the effort, and learning as you go, you’re not failing. I remind myself of this over and over: it’s okay if I make mistakes. It’s okay if I fall. What’s not okay is not trying. 

Along with this comes the idea of embracing rejection. If you can learn to see rejection as proof that you’re trying, and aim to be rejected as much as possible, you can almost guarantee you’ll start to succeed more.

Get comfortable—even cozy—with making mistakes. Think of mistakes as priceless data points on the way to your goals.

As I said above, when I made the decision to try writing a book, I gave myself permission to “fail.” Giving myself that permission, whether I realized it or not at the time, was one of the most powerful things I could have done. It meant I was committing to the process, regardless of outcome. Living that idea has been key to getting where I am now. Always, I have permission to “fail.” What I don’t give myself permission for is not trying, not getting in the game. 

If you’re afraid to try something because you’re afraid you might fail, ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen? And is it worse than letting your fears keep you from ever getting anywhere?

5. You have to step outside of your comfort zone.

Striving for “success” means committing to “failure,” which means stepping outside of our comfort zones over and over and over. And over.

We know—and the older we get, the more we know—that unused muscles atrophy. The same is true of life. An unused life shrinks. Inertia sets in and we become too comfortable with being comfortable, and next thing we know, we aren’t fully living. If you aren’t stretching yourself and trying new things, your life will shrink. You’ll stop trusting your ability to handle new situations. You’ll start to believe that all you have is all you are capable of having. You’ll give in to the myth that you can’t have a fuller life.

Stepping outside your comfort zone—and “failing”—allows your confidence to grow. You learn that mistakes aren’t fatal, and that you can survive a fall. You’ll learn to trust your ability to get through difficult situations—because it’s not about trusting that bad things won’t happen; it’s about trusting that you are strong enough to handle those bad things when they do. This knowledge gives you the courage to try the next new thing, and the next, which leads to falling more and more, getting bruised and battered more, but also leads to a bigger, richer, more satisfying life.

Among the things that terrify me are book readings and school visits. I make myself do them not because I’m a masochist, but because I know that I actually, generally, end up doing a pretty good job, and as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Every time I stand up before a group of people, talk about my books, and don’t die, I’m reminded that I can do things that scare me and still survive. This gives me confidence to try more things that scare me. Instead of shrinking, my life is growing.

If you’re in the Seattle area, by the way, I have a book reading/signing coming up May 17 at Third Place Books. Come and watch me take on my terror, and survive.

6. Your path is not anyone else’s path.

It’s tempting, once someone has “succeeded,” for them to want to tell the rest of us how they got there. And it’s tempting, for those of us hoping for our own “success,” to listen with rapt attention and try to recreate their route. But the fact is, no one person’s path is going to be the same as another’s. What worked for someone else may not work for you. You have to learn to trust in your own path. Trust the pitfalls, trust the detours, trust that every step in some direction is getting you closer to your goals. 

I’ve seen people who research what all the most successful people do, in an aim to find the path to success. Their idea is that if ninety percent of successful people do something, then doing that same thing will help them be successful, too. There’s certainly merit to the idea, but it doesn’t account for the outliers. Some of us may be the successful outliers. You may be an outlier. What works for ninety percent of people still doesn’t work for that last ten percent. You have to figure out what works for you, not for everyone else.

Don’t aim to be the next someone else. Be the first and best you.

7. Rest is important.

In 2013, I went a little crazy with the books. First, I published the third book in the Wishing Rock series, The Tides of Wishing Rock, in March. Then, since those books are “novels with recipes,” I decided to compile all the recipes into another book, From the Wishing Rock Kitchens: Recipes from the Series. THEN (well, actually, the planning began beforehand but the work came after the cookbook), I decided to launch a new series of travelogues, Pam on the Map. I wanted to go on a trip specifically designed as the flagship book of the series, Pam on the Map: Iceland, which meant a trip to that icy island in July/August. At the same time, I wanted to launch the series with more than one book, so I reached back to writing I’d done on past trips and compiled two mini-books, the Pam on the Map retrospective books on Ireland and Switzerland. Between the trip in July/August and October, I wrote and assembled all three books, and then I launched the series in October.

Five books in one year. I was exhausted. I mean beyond exhausted. I think it was January 2014 before I regained my energy. I’d pushed myself, and perhaps pushed too hard. Never again. (Well, I say that now, but I know myself. Let’s go with probably never again.)

I was reading an article the other day that pointed to a study that says “only 16 percent of respondents reported getting creative insight while at work. Ideas generally came while the person was at home, in transportation, or during recreational activity.” If we want to be creative, we have to rest. Pushing ourselves too hard may be tempting in that it feels necessary for “success,” but see the definition of success in #3, above. If we are pushing only for the end goal, we’re missing the point. Remember to rest.

8. You can’t do it all at once.

If you’ve taken the Myers Briggs test, you’ll recognize one of the questions: Do you like things to be open-ended, or completed? I used to think I liked things open-ended, but as it turns out, for me, it’s “completed” all the way. Having projects unfinished makes me uncomfortable and fidgety and restless. (I’ve even had to ban myself from bringing jigsaw puzzles into the house. I will literally keep working at it to and way past the point where my shoulders are aching with shooting pains from leaning over the puzzle to fit in “just one more” piece.)

But when writing a book, there is simply no way you’re going to finish in a day, or even a week. Sure, there are the NaNoWriMo people who finish a book in a month, but I’ll tell you, the vast majority of them come away exhausted. (See #7, above.) No, writing is a marathon, and you have to learn to simply accept the day’s accomplishments and begin again the next day. The idea of this expectation of slow but steady progress has carried over into other areas of my life, much to my benefit.

Right now, I’m writing this article with an actual hourglass filled with sand measuring my time. I’m writing for an hour, and then when the hour is up, I’ll take a break. The article will still be waiting for me, and I can finish it later. Getting some of it done is better than putting it off forever because I think I have to finish it in one fell swoop. 

Do a bit at a time, and you’ll get there.

(As I wrote this section, my hourglass literally just dumped the last grains of sand into the bottom glass. Break time!)

9. Don’t let “perfect” get in the way of “done.”

There is no such thing as “perfect” when it comes to human beings (or, probably, when it comes to anything at all). Even if something is perfect to one person, it may be worthless to another. To be human is to be imperfect, and the idea of reworking something until it’s perfect is just an excuse for never putting your work out there. 

Think of it this way: you will learn more from writing fifteen books than you will learn from writing one book and spending fifteen years perfecting it. Replace “writing books” with anything else and it still holds true.

Do the best you can right now, put your work out into the world, and start again. Learn from your challenges and your mistakes, and the next time, you’ll do better.

Related to this is the idea that you have to start before you’re ready. If you wait until you know exactly how to do something before you do it, you will never start. How could you? Part of knowing how to do it comes from doing it—and making mistakes, and learning, and trying again.

Waiting until you believe you can do something perfectly before trying, or waiting for your work to be perfect before sharing it with anyone else: these are all excuses and forms of procrastination.

When I started this post, it was “9 Things I’ve Learned About Life from Writing 9 Books.” But I got too caught up in wanting it to be perfect, so now it’s “10 Things.” If I kept waiting until I knew for sure it was perfect, I’d never publish it. The books I’m publishing now are better than my first books (though I still love my first books!). Isn’t that the way it should be? I would be disappointed in myself if my last book wasn’t far better than my first. As I said in #1, you can’t get to the thousandth step without taking the first. In my case, I can’t get to book ten without writing books one through nine.

It is better to be in the game imperfectly than not be in it at all. Any or all of us could die tomorrow. Live (and create) today.

10. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

If living any dream were easy, everyone would do it. It’s not. There have been countless times when I wanted to give up, settle back into a life that would be easier but which wouldn’t, for me, be as fulfilling.

When I started writing Death at Glacier Lake, I’d never written a mystery before and had no idea how to do so. Despite endless research and reading, it was the most excruciating challenge, in terms of writing, I’ve ever faced. Time and time again I wanted to give up and just leave the project unfinished. But I’ve learned enough about myself that I knew I needed to finish; that leaving it half done would leave me feeling unsettled. I finished, and the end result is, frankly, one of my favorite books yet. And now I’m thinking of writing a mystery series!

Everything worth doing, everything worth having, everything worth being, takes work. So many of the best things in life are also the most challenging. But pushing through those challenges is worth it, every time.

Bonus:

I’m working on the 11th book right now (another Pam on the Map book: stay tuned!) so I’ll give you a bonus 11th thing I’ve learned:

11. “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it. You can influence it. You can build your own things.” Steve Jobs

I think we tend to have this idea that everyone around us knows more than we do, is smarter, is more creative, is more capable. But the fact is, everyone has strengths, and everyone has weaknesses. Including you.

I can almost guarantee this: the people who seem to know everything, don’t. Those who seem to have everything figured out, haven’t. (In fact, if they tell you they have, run. They’re lying, whether they know it or not.) People who have achieved greatly don’t know everything, and are certainly not without their own fears and insecurities. Rather, they’ve learned to sit with the discomfort, work alongside (not through) the fear, and cope with uncertainty. They have cultivated resilience and mental strength and courage, which is something we can all build.

So, how do you get comfortable with uncertainty? You learn to trust that whatever comes your way, you can handle it. How do you learn that trust? You practice stepping outside your comfort zone, as often as possible.

At the end of our days, we will regret the things we didn’t do, not the things we did. I started writing because I didn’t want to die with a big “What if?” “What if I tried writing a book?” I tried, and I know the answer: it changed my life, for the better.

And, I’m just beginning. Stay tuned for “20 Things I Learned From Writing 20 Books.” Keep learning!

Death at Glacier Lakenow available in print and ebook!

See all of my books here.

Good People of the World, Stop Beating Yourselves Up

A while back, I made a mistake. It was unintentional, but it was bad in a very not good way. The kind of bad where afterward you feel a little bit ill, or a lot ill, and you want very much to go back in time and change it and everything that led up to it.

The kind of mistake I tend to overthink endlessly; over which I beat myself up.

I suspect it happens most often to the kindest people:

We say something wrong, do the wrong thing, unintentionally hurt someone, and we have a hard time moving on. We replay the situation over and over, as though enough self-condemnation will somehow make it okay.

This time, a few days after my unforgivable blunder, a thought suddenly popped into my head out of nowhere:

Who are you to wallow in your mistakes, to waste time beating yourself up over the past?

Um, excuse me?

The thought expanded to explain itself.

What a luxury it is to have time and space to spend hours dissecting what can’t be changed. Tell me: Exactly how does your self-flagellation serve the world?

But I did this bad thing. I feel bad.

Everyone makes mistakes. You know, for certain, that 99% of the time you are kind, compassionate, loving, helpful, generous, thoughtful, capable. Who are you to waste your energy on self-hatred, when what the world needs now, more than anything, is good people who are present and engaged?

But …

I’m done. That’s it. Move on.

But … but ….

But the voice in my head was right. Good people of the world, what a waste of our talents and skills and energy, to devote our time to the failings of being human, to invest it in the irreversible. To spend our time beating ourselves up.

We fall not so that we will give up, but so that we will grow stronger.

When we become paralyzed by our mistakes, we are of no use to the future. Immersing ourselves in our imperfections denies the world our strengths.

Let’s be clear: This is not a permission slip for anyone to go around hurting people and doing harm without conscience or consequence, thinking “I’ll just forgive myself again and move on.”

Imagine encountering a maze in the middle of the forest. Would you expect to find your way to the center on your first try? Of course not.

It’s not a failure to go down the wrong path. It’s only a failure if you go down that path again and again; if you realize you’re on the wrong path and you continue along it anyway.

We all make mistakes. If you need to make an apology, do so. If you need to make amends, do so. But then stop wasting time on what can’t be changed. The world needs us, good people; the world needs us now as much as ever.

The world needs our compassion, and that compassion has to start with ourselves.

heart

Day 16: Listening

One of the easiest ways to be viewed as a tremendous conversationalist is to listen and ask questions.

Listen with an open mind. Let questions arise from the conversation. Be curious.

Don’t listen with the aim to find how the other person’s situation fits into the narrative you want to talk about so you can turn the conversation back to you. Listen with an aim to find out about the other person. What drives them, what is important to them, what their hopes are and what their frustrations are. Listen without agenda. Listen to learn.

This is not to say you can never talk about yourself. But don’t you already know everything there is to know about you? Isn’t it more interesting to find out about someone else?


The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam StuckyP.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!


Check out Pam’s books!

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Day 15: Let’s Talk About Love

Yesterday I started reading Kristi Ling’s book Operation Happiness (which I love already). Just now, I got to a line that stopped me for a moment:

Love is the single most powerful force in the universe.

True enough, I thought.

It wasn’t that statement itself that stopped me. What stopped me was this: We talk all the time about fear. Fear as a driving force in everything from how we live, how we learn, where we go, what we do, who we talk to, who we scrutinize, and, right now, how we vote.

But if love is the single most powerful force in the universe, why do we never talk about love?

Love isn’t science (though some, myself included, might argue with that). We don’t study it in school outside of maybe a day in health class. We don’t talk about it in the news except for happy human interest stories tacked on at the end of the news hour. We don’t actively, consciously perpetuate it in our daily lives and work to spread it to those around us.

Love is, instead, relegated to the seedy underworld of … dare I say it … art.

I wouldn’t argue that love is the single most powerful force in the universe. I completely agree. I mean, after all, the existence of Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived, proves it. (Yes, I know it’s fiction. But it’s also truth though fiction.)

But we talk about fear. We talk about fear all the time.

What we focus on increases. We need to start talking more about love.

Reflections of sunbeams creating a heart on my office wall one morning. Love is everywhere. We just have to keep our eyes open.
Reflections of sunbeams creating a heart on my office wall one morning. Love is everywhere. We just have to keep our eyes open.

The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam StuckyP.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!


Check out Pam’s books!

Join Pam’s mailing list!

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