When was the last time I posted? I have no idea. When was the last time I wrote something meaningful? I definitely don't know. When was the last time I wrote anything? A couple of weeks ago. And I now include writing letters in the category of "writing" because it sometimes makes me feel better to say, "I wrote something today!" when it was just a letter. Why is it that I have been a writer without a pen for about seven months? Why is it that I've sat at my desk many hours over the past months with nothing to show for it but my youngest cat's love (she sleeps on my lap)? It's because I've felt defeated.
Yes, I'm only twenty-seven years old and have two books published, but who really cares? Any publisher worth having contacts with has no idea who I am and I've taken no steps toward publication of any of my writing for almost a year. Some of that is my own fault: I have essays written and ready to go but no gumption to send them off to magazines or journals. What I have written in the past year I have thrown out either because I didn't believe in it or I thought it was terrible. Considering the fact that I have only seriously considered myself as a "writer" for three years, one year of zero production is a really bad sign. As the months have progressed I have more and more asked myself the question, "what's the point? If I write something, I'll have to self-publish, and that doesn't count. If I write something, it won't be any good. If I write something, it'll be great but no one will read it because no one believes in me or my writing enough to push my work into publication. So what's the point?" This question is clearly emblematic of the defeatism that has overwhelmed my life.
I say, "overwhelmed my life," because while serving as a pastor of a church seemed to give my life and my talents some meaning and purpose, soon that, too, was overtaken by my feeling defeated. Feeling defeated in one area of life will almost certainly creep into other areas. The same is true with sin, as a friend of mine pointed out today: if we run away from God in one area of life, that hole will grow wider into greater separation from God until we suck it up, confess to God, turn back to God, and let God's grace do the work. So the defeat I felt as a writer has started to remove meaning from a very meaningful vocation to the point that I ask, "what's the point?" about my whole life. What's the point of being a pastor, I ask, if I don't guide anyone closer to God? And clearly, I tell myself, I'm not helping anyone.
Yikes! That's a scary place to be. Ignoring whether or not I'm a good pastor, it doesn't do any good for me or for anyone else to convince myself that I'm useless and it doesn't matter whether I existed or not. I become useless when I think I'm useless. So, friends, the key is to avoid defeatism. How ever is one to do that? Well, I think I've stumbled on two approaches that are helpful. And these approaches were specifically arrived at to be helpful to writers/artists who are struggling to unleash the writer/artist within, but they certainly apply to anyone who is searching to avoid feeling useless, meaningless, without direction, and defeated.
The first approach is to ascribe meaning to your work. Usually by "work" I mean artistic work, but here I mean whatever it is you do for money. Art and writing may not be the foremost source of income for you. Because of that, many people take jobs that have no underlying meaning for them. The jobs they work for money are just for money, just to survive in order to write or make art. Or, for those non-writers out there, the jobs we take are just for money, just to feed us and allow us to go on vacation, etc. Many, many people are working at jobs that have no meaning to them. Now, it wouldn't at all be original if I told you to find a job that does meaning something to you. And as we all know, if I can't say something original I tend not to say it all. Please do find a job that has meaning for you if you can. If you can't, though, ascribe meaning to your work anyway! If you work at Starbucks or work as an accountant because that's the best way you've found so far to make money, and the job is only an avenue towards living comfortably, then that's meaning right there. Your job exists so that you can live well. Seriously, you can't imagine how much of a positive life shift could follow this attitude shift. If you only care about your job as a means to make money, then don't say it has no meaning; say that the job's meaning is for you to live well. And you, savvy person that you are, are taking advantage of the system so that you can, indeed, live well. When you realize that the meaning of your job is to live well, then you might actually focus on living well rather than focus on your job that you don't care about.
You can ascribe whatever meaning to your work that you need to feel successful. Whatever meaning you need to ascribe to your work to feel successful, ascribe that meaning. Start simple and work your way up from there. It's a mind game, you see. If you can convince yourself that your life has meaning by a simple mind trick, then do so. Of course, it's not really a mind trick: your life does have meaning regardless of whether or not you feel that it does. Still, use the mind trick as a place to start because it will help you build momentum. If you feel meaningful and successful in the area of your life that takes up most of your time--assuming that working for money takes up most of your time--then that will snowball: you'll feel good about yourself for the majority of your time, and that feeling will then motivate you to do and do with passion and inspiration the other things in your life that you feel are more meaningful. You'll find that after a while every thing you do has meaning and you'll be constantly buoyed by that so that you can stand on top of the rolling waves of life's oceans with confidence and power.
The second approach--and these two approaches are by no means exclusive or placed in order of effectiveness or priority--is to listen to your friends. This approach is a little complicated. It requires that you have meaningful friends. A friend, you see, is not just someone who you have fun spending time with and/or will say, "Hey, you're a great person!" whenever you tell them to. I can say from experience that self-pity is not an invitation to tell the self-pitying person that they are great. It's an invitation to be honest and to re-evaluate life strategy. Well, it should be anyway. Some people just seek attention. That's sad. A friend needs to be honest, and a friend needs to share either vocation, life philosophy, or life goals for that honesty to mean anything. Once you have such a friend, or multiple such friends, you need to talk to them. If you aren't in regular conversation with your friends, then you're not listening to them. And if you aren't listening to your friends, you have no one holding you accountable to yourself. And if no one is holding you accountable to yourself, then you'll eventually find a way to convince yourself that you're a loser and a failure and succumb to defeatism. Even if what your friends tell you is wrong, or you think it's wrong anyway, listening to your friends will result in your re-evaluating your life strategy in a positive way--you'll leave the conversation with more motivation and drive than when you entered the conversation.
Therapy is really good, too. Listening to your friends isn't a substitute for therapy. But therapy can also be dangerous. If we aren't careful, we may find ourselves relying on therapy like a drug rather than fixing any real issues, or we may rely on therapy at the expense of our friends. Therapy should be a supplement if anything. Friends, on the other hand, can be the net of a trampoline. Whenever we fall from the sky of productivity or knowledge of self-worth, we fall into the net of our friends who, like a trampoline, shoot us back up into the air. Friends are key. I know this for a fact because just today I was led to the door of writing salvation by a friend; and salvation in other ways.
Whichever approach we choose, defeatism can be avoided. Defeatism must be avoided if we hope to unveil our real talents to the world, if we hope to live up to our potential, and if we hope to help others also live the joyful lives that we journey toward.