The Glass Ceiling in Fiction

Can we please have some actual gender equality in fiction?

I am really sick and tired of how so many stories elevate one gender at the expense of the other and call that empowerment.

I don’t want to spend too much time tackling the well known and obvious issue with male centric stories featuring one dimensional female characters. But real quick I want to introduce you to a famous idea called the Bechdel test.

Acing the Bechdel Test

It’s basically a test to see if female characters have any more importance in a story other htan being a man’s love interest or the friend of said love interest. If you’ve got two women talking about anything but a man, then you’ve got yourself some potentially multi-dimensional female characters.

And that’s great! All the power to them!

A lot of the stories I choose to experience often feature strong female leads and I love them. Being Erica and Age of Youth just to name a couple serve as perfect examples of women that ACE the Bechdel test. Being a man who will never truly understand the plight of women, I love seeing their experiences depicted as realistically and empathically as possible.

Faux Femme Fatales

Now with that said, here’s the true crux of this post: I am sick and tired of Faux Femme Fatales.

Now first the obvious case; over powered female characters like Scarlett Johannson’s Lucy and the even more popular Rey from the new Star Wars films. They both have unearned skills that make them overpowered in dessimating the hordes of men they fight in their respective films. They face little to no challenge leading up to their mastery, yet Rey is meant to serve as a positive role model for girls to get into Star Wars. Simply put, it’s a bad message to send to young girls.

Yes, girls can do anything. Anything boys can do, too!

But it requires hard work and dedication. Especially in the realm of martial arts. Take a look at the women’s division of the UFC. They are not muscular and skilled in mixed martial arts just because they are women, or take some drug (Lucy), or touch some weapon (Rey). They dedicate themselves to eating right, working out, and training in the various styles they need to know to survive in the octagon.

The way Lucy and Rey are written insults these real life women who not only train to develop skill and competance, but also face actual challenges. And worst of all, the men who surround Lucy and Rey from their respective films all happen to be incredibly incompetant and no match to their strength and intellect.

Now let’s plunge deeper into a more subtle way in which men are kicked to the curb all for the sake of “girl power.”

How to Discourage Women From Getting into STEM

A little while ago I watched Project MC² on Netflix and thought the idea was pretty cool. It’s about a team of teenage spies who share their scientific skills to “covertly” protect the world. Cool! Love the idea! It reminds me of Totally Spies, which I loved watching as a kid.

Furthermore, there’s this huge issue these days about the shortage of women getting into the STEM field in college and university, and apparently this show aims to inspire girls to garner an interest in science. More power to that as well! Science is awesome. Girls are awesome, too. Why not have more of them?

Well I hate to say that this show, in the end, does not at all seem like it can accomplish that goal. I mean if you are a young girl, or a parent of a young girl who has gained interest in science thanks to Project MC², then please let me know it actually has had the intended effect. Otherwise I personally would not let my God daughter anywhere near this god awful show.

First of all, the girls are portrayed as walking talking Tumblr memes. They talk in the most stereotypically annoying teen style that no actual teen talks like. Then second of all, there always tends to be some typical douche guy character who undermines the girls because they’re girls, and then gets showed up by her within the same scene.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen it so forgive me if I get the details wrong, though even if I am inaccurate in my remembering of the following scenes, the core principle of how anti-man they are still holds.

In the first season there’s a scene where these four pre-teen girls have little to no problem infiltrating a government facility. The security is a joke. You’re supposed to believe that pre-teen girls–half the size of fully grown middle aged men, who have been trained to serve as security officers to a classified facility–easily beat these guys up by way of a foot stomping, purse bashing, and for some stupid reason, kicking a fire alarm that easily opens a sealed door they need to get to.

All the while, adrenaline pumping rock music plays as the girl kicks the fire alarm in slow motion as if it’s so cool and bad ass. It’s so bad ass that she somehow ran past a pudgy security officer who made the laziest attempt to stop her, right?

Wrong!

What could have been better is if these girls actually acted like spies who use their smarts to outsmart government security. And I’m talking security of not only the middle aged type, but technological kind as well that they could have hacked into their systems to bypass them. That would have been way more believable and logical given the premise of the show.

Then I believe the first episode the second season features the girls hanging out at the front of their high school, when a soccer ball happens to stumble in their presence. It’s from the boys playing in the distance and they’re asking for the ball back. One of the girls asks “hey can I play, too?” And one of the boys in full childish douche mode says something along the lines of “but you’re a giiiirl.

His equally half brained friends start laughing like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. I’m pretty sure you know where this is going, but in case you didn’t, what happens next is that girl kicks the ball so hard and it bashes the boy’s head in, and all the girls jump and cheer.

Boys 0 – Schoolyard Violence 1

Girls rule! Boys drool!

Fuck off.

How to Shatter the Glass Ceiling For Real, For Once

I can probably write a whole series taking the infinite examples where men need to be “put in their place” in Faux Femme Fatale stories, but I’m going to stop right there before my piss is brought to a boil.

The point is this: I am all for gender equality in fiction. Many of my favourite stories feature equally equipped characters of both genders. Again, Being Erica and Age of Youth come to mind. What made them powerful characters were their individuality, not how much they can prove the other sex wrong.

So for the love of god, established writers and new writers alike, please avoid this trope. It’s old, dead, and tired, and it sets our progress back by several centuries.

If you want strong female leads, then have them actually face hardship and get them to earn their mastery, whether that mastery is in super powers and/or the strength to navigate their existential crises.

Show young girls some Being Erica to learn from Erica’s adventures in time traveling therapy. She gets to relive her regrets in attempt to change them, only to complicate her past in other ways, and then ultimately learn a lesson that helps her with a relevant issue in her present life.

Hooray for self-knowledge!

Show young girls some Age of Youth to learn the value of sisterhood from the Belle Epoque crew. It’s one of the best ensembles I’ve seen in a long time featuring young Korean women who go to college and share a house together–often also sharing their personal problems with each other. And despite their drastically different personalities, they all happen to learn how to live with and understand each other.

Hooray for healthy female relationships!

If more stories followed in their example, we would have many more sought after female leads that are strong positive role models for young girls. Show women overcoming realistic and relatable struggles. Show them getting knocked down and then getting back up. Now that’s true empowerment.

If more stories incorporated these writing techniques, maybe then female audiences both young and seasoned can feel empowered to take on all of life’s challenges.

All of this can be achieved without having to castrate men in the process.

Especially men who are written to represent the most unrealistic and stereotypical mysogonists.

Because much like their over powered and flawless female counterparts, they simply do not exist, and do nothing but create a false sense of gender inequality.

 

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Sprouting Symbols in Stories

Planting the Symbolic Seeds

We’re all pattern recognition machines. Whenever we experience repetition through objects, places, and actions, they implant an impression in our minds to create future expectations. And within getting those expectations met, the reward system in our brains releases dopamine, making us feel not only a sense of joy, but also a sense of comfort and familiarity.

This is why babies love when you play Peek-A-Boo with them. When you cover your face with your hands or hide behind the couch, they expect you to “pop up out of nowhere” and make a silly face that gets them giggling their cute little baby laughs.

In fiction, you want to do the same thing. You want to play a literary form of Peek-A-Boo through Symbolic Action. A reoccuring object, place, or action engages your audience’s sense of familiarity and by letting them feel safe from an expected routine, you are given the opportunity to also trigger the part of the human brain that thrives on novelty.

Or simply put; you want to mix the new with the old.

What this does is symbolize how an aspect of your story is progresses over time. This can range from how an important plot item is used throughout the story, the state of a physical location your characters frequent, or how characters relate to each other through repetitive actions.


Papa Can You Hear Me?

Today we’ll focus on reoccuring actions and how they symbolize ever changing relationships between characters. In particular, I will be using the father and daughter combo from my work in progress It Starts at Home; Antonio and Johanna Pascual.

The story starts off with Antonio blasting his heavy metal music as he drives Johanna to her first day of high school. He just wants to drop her off and go to work, unaware of how nervous she is, and thanks to the rockin’ tunes he’s so used to pumping on every car ride, he’s even more oblivious to how reluctant she is to start this new chapter in her life.

She wishes she could say something. That she’s not ready yet and wants to stay home for the day. Or worse, that she actually feels sick to her stomach and is unsure if she can physically manage herself in this new environment.

Johanna tries to speak up, but her tiny voice is buried beneath pounding drums and distorted guitars, and all that Antonio can offer her is yelling “you’ll be fine,” before returning to his mini headbanging session. She keeps trying to complain and his solution is to remind her to not be afraid and be sure to make new friends.

Needless to say, Johanna ends up feeling ignored and down right invisible.

What this symbolizes is the distance between father and daughter, even though Antonio drives Johanna around quite often. The fact that Antonio chooses to listen to the noisy music of his own teen days over the soft tiny voice of his teenage daughter comes to show their giant lack of communication between each other.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Throughout the book, similar car rides occur where Johanna has a desire to communicate with her father, but the metal music continues to serve as a point of contention between them. He uses it to drown out the nagging voice of his wife and the whiny voice of his daughter, both of which have valid things to say to him, but tension rises the more he attempts to ignore them.

Furthermore, his wife Miranda is actually offended by his choice in music. Because she immigrated to Canada from a traditional Filipino family, and that she met Antonio at a youth church group, she feels that Antonio is listening to “the devil’s music” which clashes with their Christian values.

Over time though, Antonio gradually learns to put the volume down when the ladies in his family are speaking to him. Most of the time it’s much to his detriment, but it’s a hard pill of pride to swallow to actually start listening to his family. And even on the flip side, for his family to respect his preferences because Johanna and Miranda spend a huge chunk of the novel judging him for everything he likes.


Reaping What You Sow With Symbols

Along with my favourite aspect of fiction being character, I have recently fallen in love with recognizing symbols and how they can serve as tools to further describe the progress of a story. It greatly reflects how our lives change over time despite some of the routines we engage in from childhood up into our adult lives.

Think about how you celebrate your birthday compared to how you used to when you were a child. Sure, cake and candles are the staple of every birthday celebration, but as you depart from your childhood you outgrow the need for face painting, clowns, and bouncy castles. (Unless you still do face painting, clowns, and bouncy castles well into your 20’s, I won’t judge!)

To celebrate and symbolize your ongoing maturity you begin to add different elements to your birthday parties like alcohol, expensive vacations, or whatever else floats your boat.

Likewise in fiction, you want to use symbols to implant familiarity in your audience and take them on a ride toward growth by letting your symbols sprout.

Are there any symbols that you appreciate in your favourite stories?

Have you used symbols before? Upon reflection, were consciously or unconsciously planted?

With expanded knowledge on symbols, do you plan to employ them in your work? If so, how so? Let me know in the comments below!

(Stay tuned for more on symbols in the future…)

Putting the “I” in “Interests”

Photo Credit: http://www.tinyme.com

What are your favourite books to read right now? What are your favourite shows to binge? And what have been your favourite movies in recent memory?

Now compare all those things to your favourite stuff from just five years ago.

How does it feel and what do you notice about your interests?

I ask this because today is the day I decided to visit my young adult novel, It Starts: at Home, for the fourth time and fourth year in a row.  And whenever I buckle down to rewrite this book for the first time in each respective draft, I get all sentimental over how I conceived the idea for it.

This is mainly because my world was completely different before I ever got invested in YA literature. Long story short, I was into fantasy and sci-fi before I fell madly in love with the complexities of interpersonal relationships.

Much like my novel’s Philipino protagonist, Johanna Pascual, along with her friends and family–I have also grown into a more muti-dimensional version of myself over the years. This has allowed me to bleed my own personal insights into the characters I’ve created for this drama that tackles the day to day conflicts of being in a dysfunctional family and equally dysfunctional high school environment.

As I said, I was into fantasy which meant magic and epic battles, along with sci-fi and advanced technopoly that all served as but an abstract symbolization of human ability.

I am not here to say that fantastyand science fiction are devoid of interpersonal complexity amongst their respective casts of characters, but over the years I have outgrown them and prefer to experience stories with a more clear cut representation of our reality as it is right now.

Not before, not the future. Just this eternal present we all share in our daily lives.

Obviously art cannot exactly replicate reality, but it can come pretty close while also showing us–as all fiction is meant to do–what we are also possibly capable of if we’re willing to grow as human beings.

The things we’re interested in either grow with us or we out grow them if they no longer serve any significant personal benefits.

For the things that stay with us, our reasoning for our continued interests evolve.

For the new things that enter our lives, they are a representation of how we’re growing.


I Am Vengeance, I Am the Night, I Am Batman!

Now let me stop being abstract and get a bit more concrete here.

Taking a simple example, Batman has been my all time favourite superhero for my whole life. The character and all his reiterations have stayed with me since I was a child, ranging from Adam West’s campy and corny Batman, to Christian Bale’s dark, broody, and realistic Batman.

As a kid I just liked watching The Caped Crusader beat up bad guys. Whether it had the POW! WHAM! and KABLAMO! sound effects or had the slightly more ironically realistic fight choreography of Batman: the Animated Series.

But then I remember watching Batman Returns, directed by Tim Burton starring Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne, and Danny DeVito as The Penguin. I can’t remember exactly what scene it was that made me feel this way, but I do specifically remember feeling sorry for The Penguin.

Batman Returns’ take on The Penguin was my first experience of ever empathizing over a villain rather than hoping that he would just get beaten to a bloody pulp.

So that stuck with me for years I have come to accept that in the Batman world, especially when done right, the villains are meant to have tragic backstories that reveal these bad guys are just sad guys, expressing their pain and torment in a way that’s more psychologically unhealthy as Batman expresses his. (At least he beats people up for a good cause right?)

This is an example of how my continued interest in Batman evolved in terms of my reasons for liking the character. With so many reiterations to represent different eras of time in my life, there was a Batman for every age!


Dungeons and Daughters

Now throughout my teens I was into Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fantasy, and to some degree Lord of the Rings. I thought it was pretty bad ass for characters to have special races and skillsets based on their character class to make them different from each other.

Excuse me while I geek out too hard. *Pushes invisible glasses up the bridge of his nose*

Futhermore, just like with Batman, I liked how they beat up bad guys all in their own unique abilities, whether they were proficient with swords or magic. But as time went on, and I began reading Dungeons and Dragons novels, all the combat and fantastical voodoo became more of a spice sprinkled into stories about interpersonal relationships between characters with very different personalities from each other.

Soon I found myself intrigued by the ideological differences between knights and thieves, assassins and priests, and so on and so forth. The black and white nature of their characterization made it obvious what they stood for.

Though after an over consumption of fantasy, especially including being part of two Dungeons and Dragons campaigns–one with my friends, and the other with my family–I started to get tired of the genre. I outgrew it and no longer had interest in this idea of an unlikely band of warriors, mages, and hobbits coming together to stop some evil being from stealing all the crystals or whatever sought after magical relic that provided infinite power.

What remained was my interest in how characters relate to each other, and nowadays I can say I do love stripping away the abstraction of magic and technology to cut down to the bone of human relationships. I now prefer contemporary stories with the kind of people you can run into in your daily life who face pretty much the same, relatable issues they you may face in your life.

Existential woes of what to do with your life: finding the right career, the ideal romantic mate, or finding your tribe to name a few.

Interestingly enough, my introduction to contemporary fiction involved strong female lead characters who did not have to have superpowers to be admirable. In fact, they just had to be vulnerable, open, and honest, coupled with the desire to grow themselves personally in order to survive and thrive in their environments.

Where I once loved the story of an assassin turned priest, trying to find peace in a land that only knows blood (Diran from the Blade of the Flame Trilogy by Tim Waggoner)–I became fascinated with the deeply personal story of a middle aged mother of two struggling with early onset alzheimer’s (Ruby from Island Girl by Lynda Simmons).

Both equally incredible characters, both experiencing things I hopefully never have to, but get the privilege of thanks to them taking me on their journey through their respective books.

But when it came to Island Girl, I felt much more invested and centered than I have ever been because it was the first book I read where there was no need for magic or advanced technopoly to wow me. Just plain out, regular human being with her flawed personality and relationships with her daughters, and the incredible human determination to make sense of her life and personal relationships.

Again, I am not bashing on fantasy or sci-fi, but personally for me, I really want to cut away from the abstraction and just relate to everyday people being fictionalized and their psyches explored through realistic drama. It makes it easier this way to explore the concept of interpersonal relationships because I don’t have to spend energy compehending how magic spells work or what the stallactites in a dungeon smell like.

This is how I have outgrown fantasy and moved on to enjoying contemporary works of fiction. I’ve gravitated towards the feels and away from the epic fighting. In fact, there are some pretty epic arguments between contemporary characters that have intrigued me infinitely more than large scale battles involving orcs, mercenaries, and good ol’ medieval weaponry and magic.

I still like it, but I don’t love it like I love arguments between seemingly real human beings whose goals and motivations I can relate to much easier.


Values, Variables, and Virtues…Oh My!

So while I have rambled about my favourite stuff and how I relate to them, I hope you’ve kept in mind the stuff that you value and favour. After all, if you think about why you gravitate towards different types of stories and media, it really does serve as a reflection of what you virtues you value in humanity.

Maybe you like politically charged punk rock.

Maybe you like lovey dovey pop ballads.

Maybe you like both and everything else in between!

Whatever your interests may be, please feel free to share how you put the I…in Interests.

 

Progress is Progress

If there’s a big goal you want to achieve, there is definitely an even bigger picture where it belongs.

It’s easy to be blinded by the bigger picture and feel lost in the tapestry of it all.

One way to break it down into tinier, more managable pieces, is to appreciate the progress you’ve made thus far.

This is something I need to remind myself of quite often because I constantly find myself getting lost in my journey. It has been a year since I quit my last job and decided to go full time with writing. Reminding myself that progress is progress has been the only refuge I’ve had available to me because although I may be poor financially compared to last year, at least nowadays I’m not as spiritually poor as I was when I was stuck building someone else’s dream.

It shouldn’t have come as a shock to me, but surprise surprise, starting your own business is incredibly difficult. And quite often it is hard to see any tangible results of my hard work other than my own self assurance that I try to keep as objective as possible (because let’s face it, I do want to keep my spirits up, but I don’t want to delude myself into thinking I’m succeeding more than I think).

Throwing away the steady and predictable paycheck is the cost entrepeneurs need to pay, and all the security that comes with it is something all of us need to deal with before making our big breaks. Some entrepeneurs are able to take off and create a steady income early on, while most of us, more often than not, need to work harder than we ever have working a 9-5 job in order to simply make a decent buck for ourselves.

Now despite all these challenges, and I am not deterred.

I am proud of what I have done so far.

I am happy with the choices I’ve made.

The choice to focus on finishing the third draft of It Starts at Home, and the much scarier choice of hosting creative writing workshops, have gleaned more spiritual, intellectual, and emotional “income” than I have ever generated working 9-5 jobs. I am not so flippant to dismiss the value of money as I do appreciate making the money I’ve made, since I spent the past 10 years buying books to educate myself at my own pace based on my own individual interests.

All I’m saying is that as good as it felt to made all that money, it feels a lot better to be creating value and giving of myself to the world. Sharing my gift and inspiring others. Whether they were coaching clients who I spoke to one hour a week to give them the space to geek out about their works in progress, or people who have attended to my writing workshops.

Rest assured, I finally feel I’m doing what I was meant to do with my life.

Hosting writing workshops has been a desire of mine for two, three, or even more years now, and to finally have done it feels like a nice big checkmark off the bucket list.

Before every single one, I’m a nervous wreck.

I wonder if people will even care about what I have to say.

I fear if no one’s going to show up.

Early on I had to remind myself to prepare for the best case scenario so I could stop driving myself crazy. The energy I carried with that allowed me to promote my events and present my work with confidence and it sure as hell felt good to have had amazing turn outs with several people coming to some workshops, and equally as good to have only a few people coming to other workshops.

Sometimes it felt too good to be true that this was happening. That people were coming and showing their interest in what I had to say, and it took everything in my power to not self sabotage.

To make a very long story short, the past three months have allowed me to feel incredible success as well as horrible failure. I had many fears about people not caring about what I had to say, tripping over my words, and the worst one of all; no one showing up to my workshops.

All of these things happened; I experienced what it was like to see someone show that they were losing interest in the workshop as the night went on. I tripped over my words, lost my breath, and had to take a moment to recollect myself. And even worse, there was one workshop where I had 0 attendance.

And you know what?

I survived.

Don’t get me wrong, I felt disappointed, maybe a little angry, but not as much as I thought I would when I ran those disaster scenarios in my head beforehand.

The way I see it is that this was my chance to work out the kinks of an ongoing process. Now that I’ve gotten used to the flow of creation, promotion, and presentation, I think I am better equipped next year to bring the Four Pillars of Fiction series back and try to reach a wider audience than I already have this year.

My numbers may not be as big as I first hoped in terms of income, attendance, and clients signing up for sessions, but it’s definitely a lot more than the resounding 0 I would have to face had I not tried.

At the end of the day, I am proud that I at least created my first batch of workshop presentations and don’t have to worry about making anything from scratch in the next go round. I am proud that I reached some people and got some noggins nodding whenever something clicked with them if I made a valid point about writing they hadn’t considered before.

To me that’s worth it.

To me that’s progress.

It may not be much in a conventional sense, but progress is progress.

Now enough about me, how about for yourself? In what ways can you acknowledge yourself and your progress? If your goal is still very far from reach, what accomplishments can you celebrate today to motivate yourself to continue tomorrow?

 

Giving to Get vs. Genuine Giving

Recently I discovered that I had a mentality that clashed with my values and held me back from truly appreciating what I have to offer others. The mentality of giving so that I can expect something in return often soured what could potentially be genuine acts of charity and good will.

Now I don’t say this from a high horse, more of a neutral pony, but I possess the ability to ask hard hitting questions that really get people to introspect. I’ve found great pleasure in feeding my curiousity about others and in return getting them to step outside of themselves and imagine their lives. So much so that I’ve inspired creative people to get back into their craft whether it was in the visual, literary, or musical arts.

I seem to have a knack for reminding people why they love expressing themselves through the mediums they excel in. Whenever I receive their gratitude and hear that they are picking up their creativity back up off the floor, I feel a sense of warmth and accomplishment that is beyond living through them vicariously. I genuinely do enjoy getting to know people better by asking them about what their passions.

With all that said, I realized a tinge of greed within myself when I’ve tried to engage a few people I’ve helped out. I had spent so much time understanding where they were at in life and why they have neglected their creative abilities, played a part in getting them to reconnect with their creative expressions, but got little to no space to share what was going on with me.

I felt resentful.

That I could spend so much time asking question after question like an ask-a-holic, only to not get any questions asked in return about how I was doing in life.

What the hell?

Just a few weeks ago I felt justified to write people off as selfish and ungrateful because if they were good people they would take the time to understand me right?

Well from a life coaching session with my own brother Oliver Manalese (check out his work, it kicks ass), I learned that being understood was what I missed out on in my childhood. Being understood is what I needed the most and I feel like I didn’t get it from my parents, teachers, or any other adults in my life.

In turn, I have grown up to become the adult I wish I had around when I was a kid; and that is a genuinely curious and encouraging person.

Despite feeling a little miffed when people don’t give me the same curiousity, within the moments I am prying into people’s minds, I am genuinely interested in them. But then to later twist it as something I do in order to extract an obligation I realize now is just madness.

That’s giving to get.

Not genuinely giving.

It was genuinely giving in the moment, but my ego turned it into a symbiotic exchange.

Thanks to my brother’s insights, he came to conclude that there really is no need for me to have to share the details of my life to the people I help in order to feel understood. To expect reciprocity in the same vein of others being able to interview my soul was actually a very greedy thing to do.

Why crave to be understood by getting a chance to talk about myself when the very act of me showing up in people’s lives, asking them these open ended questions that inspire them, is how I am being understood?

I am being understood as someone who shows up for others.

I am being understood as someone who gives a shit.

I am being understood by the simple fact that my questions are being thought about and answered honestly.

And then later of course getting a tremendous word of thanks from the people I took the time to understand. To know that I had an effect on them that they revived creative pursuits that seemed dead and gone–that is how I already am being understood and acknowledged.

I’m who I wanted when I was a child. Someone who could ask the right questions and motivate me to pursue my passions with all the love and energy they deserve.

This rare ability to do it for others and knowing that I am capable of doing it for them should be enough to grant that curiousity and inspiration to myself. Seeing the effects of my curiousity and encouragement through other people’s actions validate for me, within myself, the sense of aliveness we all try to strive for.

I don’t think any form of absolute altruism exists. Even if you give to charity and help people out, there are selfish motives involved, but the concept of selfishness is so demonized that people deny they even have it.

We’re all selfish.

We all want things.

But that doesn’t make us bad, it makes us human.

So in giving to others, what we intrinsically get in return is pride when someone expresses their gratitude for your good will. It’s not a bad thing. It’s reaffirming that as a human being, part of this massive social species, that we matter and we have value from the very act of providing value.

Realizing all this I strive to genuinely give from now on.

I will give of myself the curiousity and understanding I wish I got as a child. For the people I help with this ability, I will bask in their gratitude and their strength to take action partly thanks to my encouragement (I won’t take full credit since they’re the ones who ultimately decide). They don’t need to know the details of my life and my thoughts, their presence and willingness to answer my questions should be enough for me.

And for those rare few individuals who can provide that curiousity and understanding, the people who can actually ask good questions and keep a consistent and engaging conversation, that’s what will set them apart from others. I’ll hold them dear in my heart.

Not everybody has to be a motivational gumshoe.

People provide value and reciprocity in different ways, and I’ve come to accept that.

So from this day onward, I strive give genuinely without expecting anything in return. Why expect when giving is its own reward?

 

 

Preparing For the Best Case Scenario

Have you ever been so paralyzed by fear that you couldn’t take action, let alone think straight? Does your mind swarm you with fear, constantly imagining the worst case scenarios? Why can’t we give ourselves a break?

Even when we’re anticipating days that we’ve since longed for, there is always the fear of things not working out as we expected, or even worse, we fear everything blowing up in our faces.

It’s only natural since human beings are hardwired to scan for danger and prepare for the most convenient survival strategy. While this is our ancient repitilian brain keeping us safe, I think in our modern world, we have evolved beyond plain survival. I think we have evolved to strive for more since becoming more intelligent and ambitious.

We’re no longer here just to survive. We’re here to thrive. We’re here to live.

For years, I’ve silenced the sound of my life’s calling. Why? The typical excuses that writing doesn’t generate any profit. That it’s a hard market to break into. That I’m better off working a safe and secure day job.

Furthermore, for the past couple years in particular, I’ve had the intention to host writing workshops, but never had the nerve to host any because I doubted my own abilities. I didn’t think I would have the public speaking skills, let alone ability to create and present my work at these supposed workshops.

This past summer, after several months of taking a break from life and deciding it was time to revive my business, I felt even more resistance with the added fears of people being bored at my workshops. That it wouldn’t be anything new or compelling to them. Maybe I’d even speak too fast or be unable to articulate my incredible ideas, only to convey them in a way that makes them sound stupid. Or worse, having nobody come to my workshops, making all my hard work and anticipation a massive waste of time.

And it’s that kind of thinking that held me back for a very long time.

It even prevented me from booking my events for a couple weeks after creating my first ever Power Point presentation which would later serve as the introduction to my workshop series: The Four Pillars of Fiction.

After a while of obsessing over these possibilities and feeling intense anxiety, I finally got sick of myself. I realized it was all in my head and I was doing this to myself. The days and moments in which I thought this way, I was pretty safe from harm and embarassment living my life in solitude with the freedom to work or not to work.

What made me decide to finally start working was realizing I should stop preparing for the worst case scenario, and start preparing for the best case scenario.

I realized that if I were to host workshops at my self hating state, the way I would show up would reveal that to my guests. Why show up all strung out at an event I should be excited for?

It took some work, but I decided that I would focus more on how things can go right and stop doing what I’ve been doing all my life, which is obsessing over all the things that could go wrong.

Why not get excited and start fantasizing about the tremendous value I could provide to other writers? Why not get excited and start fantasizing about the connections I would make with wonderful people? Why not get excited and start fantasizing about the idea of stepping out of my shell and doing something I’ve been wanting to do for so long?

When I shifted my mindset from anxiety to excitement, things started to take an unexpected turn. I gained the confidence to work my ass off to craft the workshop introduction. I gained the confidence to book my workshops with a wonderful cafe that provides event space to the public. And as of today, I have hosted four workshops so far in the past two months, and in regards to those, I gained the confidence to show up and present my work.

And you know what?

It’s been the best time of my life by far.

Getting to geek out about writing for two hours, talk everyone’s ears off about all the things I’ve learned from this past decade of self directed study, and even more compelling is the participation I’ve gotten from workshop guests–it’s more than I can ask for.

When I see my guests’ eyes light up, or resounding oohs and ahhs when I’ve introduced a concept about writing that they haven’t previously thought of. When I see my guests’ hard at work answering the questions I pose at the end of each section of a presentation. All that makes my stress and anxiety go away, and makes all the hard work and dedication worth it for me.

And none of this would be possible if I hadn’t given myself the permission, the option, the power to prepare for the best case scenarios.

I prepared the presentation, thus ridding my fear of having nothing to talk about. I prepared the workshop dates, thus ridding the fear of not having a venue to express my work. And most importantly I prepared myself self-confidence, thus ridding the fear of showing up with intense anxiety and inability to deliver my work with the energy it deserves.

It doesn’t mean I’m completely free of fear and anxiety, but at least with this new mindset I’ve adapted, I’m better able to manage these limiting thoughts and feelings, and move toward my goals more.

When it comes to taking a risk and starting new adventures, my suggestion is to make the appropriate preparations for the best case scenarios. It doesn’t guarantee the best case scenarios will happen, but it sure as hell gets you close to it! And on the times you do experience the best case scenarios, it can actually be pretty intimidating.

But at least then you’ll be prepared for it. 😉

 

Permission to Thrive?

“Are you giving yourself the permission to thrive?”

It’s a question I’ve been pondering lately.

Sometimes we’re not held back by the fear of failure, rather we’re held back by the fear of success! Crazy, right? Let me explain.

I can’t speak for everyone else but myself, so I’m going to share my experience and you can let me know if it resonates with you. As a kid, I was constantly told by my parents and teachers that I wouldn’t amount to much in life simply because I had little to no interest in school.

Their basis for me living a successful and happy life was me getting good grades to get into a good college in order to get a good job, and because I refused to do homework or go to school for many periods in my life, it meant that I was doomed to fail.

For a long time, I believed all the crap they fed me. I bought into this narrative of me being a lazy failure of a person, so whenever I get close to possibly succeeding at something, I get scared. It feels uncomfortable and unreal to be competent, let alone productive.

I grew up believing in the opinions of authority figures who knew nothing about me because they took little to no time trying to understand me. They just wanted to force me into their little box of what they thought I should be.

It’s why that even to this day I have to constantly remind myself that I’m not lazy, that I’m not a failure. That if I take more opportunities to engage in activities and interests I actually cared about, I can actually excel at them. No matter what I’ve gone through in life, and no matter what level of interest (or lack thereof) I’ve had in school, the one constant has always been writing. I’ve always managed to keep the interest in writing alive and get good grades in English class, even if I had skipped several weeks of school and neglected every other subject.

Fast forward to today, after 10 years of working for other people, I quit my last day job and am now fulfilling my decade long dream of working for myself. It’s a dream I’ve had ever since I had an asshole for a boss at my first job outside of school. Every other boss after has been okay for the most part, but this one particular douchebag was the pinnacle of potential killing authority figures I couldn’t stand, rivaled only by some teachers I’ve had throughout my years in school.

What all these authority figures had in common was the demeaning and forceful way they got me and my classmates and co-workers to get our work done. They would yell at us, call us names, get upset over the tiniest things. And whenever the pressure got too much, I would usually be the only one to yell back at them. I look back now and realize it wasn’t always for the best, but there were times where my pride was hurt far too much to let some scoldings slide.

I grew up so used to this dynamic of fighing back that I find myself becoming an authoritarian figure to myself and end up…fighting with myself.

I know it may sound crazy, but it does feel like I am split into two: the master and the slave. I guilt myself out when I don’t work as much as I could and “should” be working on my business. I bully myself into compliance and only end up working on stuff I’m passionate about with the same resistance and resentment I would with my homework.

It’s so messed up, I know!

The key fix for me is first of all, to notice how messed up this dynamic is. Then second, it’s to remind myself to not even worry about the success aspect, and focus more on the aspect where I get to create value for potential readers and clients by enjoying the creation process.

All these authority figures made any form of work seem like a chore because they focused far too much on how we would be perceived by them and the rest of society, especially by a grading system that I think is outdated. As if letters from A-F or scores of 0-100% were the only basis on which to measure your merit as a human being.

We’re more than test scores.

We’re more than what all the naysayers have made of us.

We are made to not only survive, but thrive.

Are you giving yourself the permission to thrive?