teeth

The Long Road to Payoff

Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

teeth
Yesterday I went to yet another orthodontist appointment where I got the good news that a miscreant tooth on my bottom row had moved 2 micromillimeters.

I despaired.

In 2015 I decided it was time to finally fix what nature messed up: some crowded and crooked teeth. Being an adult who sometimes speaks in public, I decided I wanted Invisalign. It took four appointments to find an orthodontist who would treat me correctly. Some wanted to remove a tooth to fix the crowding, another wanted me in (gasp!) head gear, one was too expensive, etc. Finally, a smiling man of about sixty gave me Invisalign.

It didn’t go well. I had an allergic reaction to the trays and was sick for days. Then they discovered it was the latex rubber bands that were causing the issues. Once we switched out the rubber bands, I was given the assignment to wear the trays 22 hours per day, and perform certain cleaning rituals before putting the trays back in.

The trays were very hard to wear. They hurt most of the time, and the rest of the time they felt too dirty to put back in and I had to trek back and forth to any available public restrooms to clean them, or else not put them in at all. They would inevitably get thrown out.

Then there was the self-control aspect of the situation. It was hard to wear them a full 22 hours, especially if I was participating in any social situation where I would have to talk. They gave me a silly lisp, so I usually left them in a case in my purse. At the end of the day, my supposed 22 hours would only add up to 10.

After a year of Invisalign, I began biting my tongue every time I tried to eat or talk. I bit it so hard once that I couldn’t eat for a day or so. I consulted my orthodontist and he determined that the trays weren’t fixing my bite like he wanted them to and we needed to go with braces.

More money, more pain. Braces had even more cleaning, maintenance and appointment requirements than Invisalign. I couldn’t even talk the first few days. I frequently woke up with wire cuts and tongue abrasions. I had to employ wax, topical pain killer and ointments.

There was never a single day when I wasn’t either bitterly uncomfortable or horribly in pain from these monsters.

Now, my teeth are almost straight. I have about six months left for treatment. It’s been an annoying journey. So when my orthodontist gleefully explained that that tooth had moved two micromillimeters, I did some math.

Approximately 20 visits to the orthodontist, who is 19 miles from my house, 18 from my work and 22 from my school. That’s approximately 11 hours of in-city driving and lost productivity. Combined with the appointment time (which averaged 1.5 hours each with waiting time and the long initial appointments) that adds up to 30 hours of lost time.

The Invisalign cost $4,300. Braces cost an additional $800

I estimate the units of pain to be X to the 4th power (I get a bit whiney about physical pain).

Over the last 18 months, I have spent approximately 360 hours cleaning my teeth (ten minutes, four times per day). I did that math a few times and yes, it is a horrifically huge amount of time. Could it really be 9 forty-hour work weeks? Just cleaning my teeth?

Result of all this effort? Two micromillimeters of bone movement.

Let’s pretend instead of teeth, this is a creative project or a business I had started. If I had been at it for two years, spent all that time and money and only saw that tiny movement, what would I do?

I’d likely consider quitting. I would likely reason that it wasn’t going to pay off.

I’d likely say the game is rigged, or that people like me don’t get that thing, or that other people are born with gifts that I’m not born with.

I might even start to feel somewhat desperate.

The reason why teeth straightening doesn’t make me feel the above emotions is simple. The orthodontist told me that I will get a payoff. He can even estimate (roundabouts) when that payoff will occur. He even showed me a computerized simulation of my teeth getting straight.

In other words, the path is clear, the payoff is certain.

The metric shit ton of effort I have invested will pay off for the rest of my life. Therefore, a couple thousand dollars and some lost hours aren’t a big deal. When I am 70, I will still have straight teeth (if I still have teeth at all, that is).

So if you are struggling and in pain, or if you are like me and frustrated with all that upfront work you have to put in, have no fear! Everyone who wants straight teeth has to go through it.

I am a firm believer in this equation: w + t = p

Work + Time = Payoff

How much work and how much time and how much payoff are variables. The unknowns. We have to live with them.

 

January 18th, 2017

funnyjesus

What Jesus’ Story Can Teach Us About Achievement

Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

funnyjesus

It’s almost Christmas, so let’s talk about the big J.

Or rather the two big J’s, Joseph Campbell and Jesus Christ.

(Both have the same initials, whoa!)

First, Campbell.

Campbell was known for his work with myths and legends. In his magnum opus, The Hero With A Thousand Faceshe points out that the same stories appear over and over again throughout all cultures, tribes and time periods. The stories tell us about the nature of being human and what we can expect during our life’s journey. One such story is the “temptation tale.” This tale shows up in hundreds of thousands of works. The Buddha was tempted, Luke Skywalker was tempted, you will be tempted. To that end, let’s dig into one story found in the book of Mathew about the big J’s temptation in the wilderness.

For those of you who are allergic to religion, I promise I will give you a healthy dose of a secular antidote if you stick with me.

TEMPTATION 1 – PHYSICAL COMFORTS, MONEY

Mathew 4:1

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

i.e. you are “called” to do something hard, painful, mystical, scary.

And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.

i.e. after a time of work, you notice lack. You lack time, money, attention, payoff.

And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

i.e. You, your spouse, your tribe, your culture begs you to “Give up your silly dream and get a real job!” You must endure nagging thoughts such as, “Maybe this is all childish and I should be normal and go finish my engineering degree, like my parents want me to!”

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

i.e. You stand up for yourself, telling your spouse, your tribe, your culture, “I must follow my heart and work on my dream. Money isn’t the only thing I care about.”

TEMPTATION 2 – EGO VALIDATION, BRAGGING RIGHTS, SHOWING OFF

Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you and on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” 

i.e. You say to yourself, “I am special and the rules don’t apply to me! I shouldn’t have to work hard, fight for my place or cultivate talent!”

Jesus said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

i.e. You realize the moment your ego enters the picture, the Muse/God/the world/whatever gets angry and retaliates. You don’t get what you want. You MUST put in the work, get better and pay close attention to your craft.

TEMPTATION 3 – SOCIAL STANDING, BEING “LOOKED WELL UPON”

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”

i.e. We understand that if we give up our dream, we will be “looked well upon” by a society that favors the standard, the midline, the top of the bell curve. Our parents will be pleased that we finally “found the way.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You Shall Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” 

i.e. You realize that to serve your calling, you must risk social rejection, humiliation, fear and expulsion from the tribe in order to achieve interesting things that will ultimately benefit others.

These stories of temptation pop up again and again in movies, books, religious texts because they really do happen. They happen every day to ordinary people.

Every one of us who attempts to do something hard will undergo the above temptations many times, to many varying degrees. Sometimes several will strike in one day. We will work hard to overcome them, then they will strike with new force the next day. Sometimes they will beat us for years or even decades. Some, as Oliver Holmes states, “Die with their music still in them.”

At these times of suffering and want, it helps to remember the stories. Jesus was born in humble circumstances. You will start at the bottom.

Jesus followed his calling, was tempted and eventually crucified. You will follow your calling, experience thousands of trials and your old self will have to “die.”

Jesus was resurrected. You will be reborn into a different kind of person than you were before. You will rise above your old self, and possibly the mundane world of turmoil and drama.

Merry Christmas, faithful blog readers!!

 

 

 

December 21st, 2016

competition1

What To Do If You Hate Competition

Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

competition1

Once, when I was eight or nine, I had a bff named Ketra.

She was blonde, short-haired and wiry and she liked the same toys that I liked (Fisher Price Precious Places). This is how we bonded.

For weeks we hung out at recess together until one day, Amber showed up.

Amber and Ketra had been friends in second grade and now Amber had switched to our class after her mother had a disagreement with her teacher.

Ketra sat us down and somberly said, “I don’t want to hang out with two people at recess. I want to hang out with one. I have to choose between the two of you and I don’t know which to choose.”

It was clear Ketra wanted us to compete for that special spot as her best friend forever. It was clear she wanted us to argue our case or give her incentives for choosing us.

I stood up and left without saying a word.

For the rest of the year Ketra and Amber hung out together and I found new friends. I don’t remember being sad about this one bit.

I just refused to compete.

In high school I ran for drama club president. Then, after it was too late to bow out, I found out I was running against some of my friends, including my boyfriend. Halfway through the race, I changed my mind and did an anti-campaign: “Don’t vote for me!” I pleaded to all the kids in the drama club, “Vote for someone else!” This wasn’t reverse psychology, this was my interest waning completely in the face of competition.

It wasn’t until some twenty years later that I realized this was an essential aspect of my personality. I disliked most sports, games, or situations where one’s virtues were pitted against another’s. If I liked a guy and there was another woman anywhere near his radar, I was out. If I wanted a job and someone else was gunning for it, I decided I didn’t care to have it. If I was bidding on a rare item on eBay and someone else was incrementally raising the bid by dollars, I’d get annoyed and stop bidding.

I don’t like competition.

Are you like me?

If so, should we fix ourselves?

After all, this world is filled with competition. In business, one has competitors. In relationships, one has competing interests. In hobbies, one has to face the others on the playing field. If we refuse to compete, we will not get the spoils, right?

The trouble with non-competitive personalities is that they don’t particularly want the spoils if they feel they must pay a high price to get them.

Had I competed with Amber, I could have sacrificed my best Lisa Frank stickers, or even my dignity, to win Ketra over and still ended up alone at recess. I wasn’t willing to take that chance.

I wanted someone who wanted to hang around me exactly as I was.

My dominant attitude was: if you don’t want me for exactly what I am, that’s your problem, not mine. Then I would close that door forever on them and walk away, dusting my hands. I refused to be other than what I was.

Competition, I noticed, had a funny way of morphing me into an inauthentic version of myself. I once tried out for a school play and was supposed to play a tart. This was not my personality at the time. I faked it and won the part, which meant I had to be that inauthentic character for many months. Rather than seeing this as fun, this made me feel terrible.

Likewise, my friend Marie recently got promoted in her job at a financial institution. She complains that she has to “play the game” every day, pretending to like people she loathes in order to get that next promotion.

A writer friend of mine once said, “I don’t want to play the New York Game at all. I’m from Utah.” She bemoaned the fact that she had to have New York values and New York sensibilities whenever she talked to editors, who were all from that great city. “I hate having to pretend to be important and posh.”

I believe it is this fear of being inauthentic, aka a “liar to one’s self,” that makes some of us feel uncomfortable within the walls of competitive situations. This was certainly my problem.

It may be true that some of us are hopelessly wrapped up in a quest to “be ourselves, no matter the cost.” I have met more than my fair share of artists and writers who have had this mantra. They have been worn down by the endless requirements from others to: be more religious, be a better student, be a faster worker, be a smarter dresser, get better grades, make more money, be a better husband, do important things. And on and on. They have frequently thrown their hands in the air and shouted (even if symbolically) “Just let me be myself!”

Is this you?

Even a little?

If so, the surprising solution is to compete only against yourself.

If you think about it, it’s the only way.

If you get better at your craft, you will automatically rise over the beginner (a competitive move).

If you get faster at your craft, you will automatically rise over the amateur (a competitive move).

If you get stronger at your craft, you will automatically rise over the expert (a competitive move).

In competing with yourself, you raise your own standards, keep your identity and magically still end up competing with others. The spoils come your way by adding to your identity, not taking away from it.

 

 

 

 

December 7th, 2016

rolling_stones

You are the Problem, You are the Solution

Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

rolling_stones

{Note, we are in a panic week due to insane holiday sales, so this will be a bit shorter than usual, but I hope just as helpful!}

 

Here is something I tell myself all the time:

“You are the problem, you are the solution.”

I heard Rob Lowe say it once and it really connected. Could have been Alan Alda.

 

How are you the problem?

1. You wanted it. You got it and now you have to take care of it.

2. You neglected it (due to lack of time, patience, talent, knowledge, etc) and now its dying.

3. You refuse to believe the Rolling Stones. You wanted it, couldn’t get it and can’t accept it.

 

How are you the solution?

A. Remember why you wanted it in the first place. Remember the need you had. Double down and do the work. Be proud of what you can do and what you have done. Ignore the insecurity.

B. If you still want it, but its dying, it’s never too late to start again. Refer to suggestion “A” above.

C. If you can’t have what you want, you must pivot and forgive the world for its debt to you. Turn a few degrees to the left and accept that you might just get what you need.

 

 

 

 

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November 30th, 2016

rice

When Trying to Change Your Habits, It Helps to Think Small

Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

rice

Inside the office where I run my business, there is an enormous transparent glass jar filled with rice. When people stop by, they inevitably ask what the jar is for. I always answer that “it’s an experiment.” This answer usually is enough to stop further questioning.

The rice came from a seven-pound bag I bought at the grocery store several years ago when I noticed I was sliding a little too far out of my optimal zone. It is estimated to contain over 200,000 individual grains of rice. Next to the large jar is a miniature mason jar that contains a mere couple hundred grains of rice, which isn’t enough to obscure the bottom of the jar.

These two jars are evidence of my slightly (or not so slightly) insane form of self construction, or maybe its simply a wacked out form of OCD, I can’t be sure.

The large jar represents my habits, everything from how long I brush my teeth to how fast I drive on the freeway. It represents thoughts I frequent, feelings I indluge in, beliefs–helpful and not helpful–about the world at large.

It also represents habits in potential, those bits of inner self control to which I aspire.

The mason jar, the puny, mostly-empty thing that rests next to the big jar, represents habit change.

We are nothing but a collection of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of habits. Our success, our awareness, our mistakes and our destruction are no less than a numbered amount of neurological pathways traveled over and over again throughout our lives.

Often, we decide to change something in our lives. We want to lose weight, or stop overspending or get to the page and do a little writing every day. But all acts that we do not engage in daily (i.e. non-habits) requires units of willpower, which are finite. Our store of willpower is affected by dozens, if not hundreds of factors including how much sleep we got the night before, if we are on good terms with our mother and how much glucose is in our brains. There are so many factors affecting our willpower on any given day, that willpower becomes a totally unreliable source of strength for those wanting to change.

You know this already. You tried to change big things and failed after a few days. Then you tried again, and failed again. Over and over and over. Maybe you were so discouraged, you gave up.

This happened to me too. Hundreds, if not thousands of times, until I discovered the concept of the smallest possible change.

Social psychologists estimate that each global lifestyle transformation requires the change or elimination of 60 or more small habits. That means if you want to floss every day you have to get into the habit of buying the floss, putting the floss next to your toothbrush, walking in the bathroom at night, remembering to floss, flossing each tooth, etc etc etc. You can see that even that tiny change would require quite a bit of small cues.

Each grain of rice in the mason jar represents tiny changes I have made. They are so minuscule that they use almost no units of willpower. Once I decide on a change, I dip my finger in the large jar and place a single grain of rice in the mason jar.

I will give you a small example of one small change. I wanted to learn about a certain aspect of investing but it seemed too daunting. I bought a big book on the subject and began reading. The information was dense and hard to follow. I set the book down for a couple months because I got too discouraged. Then I decided to make the smallest possible change. I would pick up the book for five minutes each night before going to bed.

I quickly realized that five minutes wasn’t a small enough, so settled instead on only one minute.

This tiny minute costs me nothing in willpower. I was able to do it when sick, when angry, when tired and when frustrated. And guess what, sometimes one minute would turn into fifteen minutes. I finished the book after a few months and my brain didn’t explode with the effort.

Each tiny grain of rice in a seven-pound bag may seem insignificant, but it plays an important role in adding to the weight of the whole. A less aware person would toss aside a single grain, deeming it unimportant. They would grab for a handful and in the grabbing, let slip many grains through their fingers until they were all spilled.

When you are considering a change of lifestyle, a grand goal or a movement away from some unworthy habit, don’t think big change.

Think about a grain of rice instead.

 

 

November 17th, 2016

warofart

How Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” Changed My Life

Book Recommendations // Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

the-war-of-art

For the last few posts I have written about self-sabotage. I couldn’t let this topic float away without highlighting the number one book that has profoundly changed my life since I read it four years ago, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. If you are my friend, chances are I have purchased and gifted this book to you. 

This book deals chiefly with self-sabotage as a dark force of nature, an indifferent but malevolent law known as “resistance.”

Resistance is defined by anything that stops us from growing to become what we want to be. Often, we create a vision for ourselves, a future. We want tight abs, we want the perfect relationship, we want a successful career.

But day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, the invisible force stops us from becoming.

While writing this post it was very important for me not to appear like a complete psychotic fangirl of this book. After all, I have probably read it over 100 times. I have the audio book in my car and there are whole weeks where I listen to it on repeat. Pressfield’s name is so common in my household that every time I get near the topic, my husband proclaims “Who’s Steven Pressfield? I don’t know!” I regularly comment on his blog and have read every other book he’s written including the big thick ones about war and stuff.

But I can’t help but be a little bit of a psychotic fangirl because this book delivered to me a highly useful model that I have been lacking for decades in my search for the reason why I can’t get stuff done.

I hold the belief that, with the exception of physical things that we can touch see and smell, nothing is truly real unless we decide it is. I also hold the belief that all books in the self-help genre, that is, books that help you become what you desire, are simply cheap tricks to get us to do what we know we should do. Some of these tricks are not objectively true–meaning that we can’t prove them through sight and smell and sound. They become true for us because they fulfill a need to understand. 

I call them cheap tricks, others call them mental models. Whatever you call them, the result is the same. A mental model is like a machine. You put a stimulus (thought, emotion, etc) into the machine and it comes out different on the other side, closer to how you want it to really be.

I collect mental models like some people collect Instagram likes.

Pressfield’s book was a highly useful machine for me. I stuffed all of my failure, my self-recrimination, my procrastination, and my endless destructive tendencies into this machine and it came out on the other side with meaning.

The meaning was that I was besieged with this invisible demon called resistance, which is self-sabotage embodied. And it was my duty to wage war on this foe or die trying.

MY LIFE BEFORE THIS BOOK

Permit me to offer my own version of a recent Pressfield blog post (he put it so much better). Before I read The War of Art, I was always looking for shiny new things to distract me.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of things I could buy. I started dealing antiques and vintage when I was 19 and quickly found out there is always an estate sale to go to, always something to sift through, always an old barn to explore.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of other jobs. I took up photography and did it semi-professionally for a few years. I got corporate jobs.  I opened up several businesses under many different names. I even took a half-hearted stab at professional art, graphic design and interior decorating.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of relationships. I had cliques, buddies, groups, lovers and clients. There was a space of five years at least where I didn’t go a single day without hanging out with someone. I spent way too much time on Facebook and Flickr and message boards–my god, the message boards! At one point in my early twenties, I was a daily frequenter of at least eleven, sporting an embarrassingly juvenile handle and avatar that I would hate for someone to dig up.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of danger and excitement. I skydived, bobsledded, went on lone vacations, got into quick relationships with unsavory dudes, started wars and fights and stopped looking at my bank account.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of passive distractions. I watched more hours of television and played more video games as a kid than I care to admit.

Sometimes the new things came in the sneaky form of things that would improve my soul–in the wrong direction. I spent years as a devout Mormon, plumbing the depths of that religion by working at the church’s headquarters and participating in secret temple ceremonies and wasting my time on Sunday’s tending other people’s kids so they could get the “spirit.” I took up any number of health regimens. I joined courses, and groups and went back to school, then went back to school again and then again. Perhaps the worst of these soul enlightening activities was the endless intake and digestion of indoctrinated cultural norms spoon-fed to me by my elders. I believed them.

Mostly, I waited for someone else to do stuff for me.

MY LIFE AFTER THIS BOOK

My day is not unlike the day described in the opening chapter of War of Art. I wake up, I go on my walk. Then, I go to work. I stay there all day. I go home and I hang out with my people and rest.

I am not unhappy.

The thing about this regimen is that no one is making me do any of this. I have complete and utter control of my day.

Give me the same privilege ten years ago and I would have wasted it.

Don’t get me wrong, every day is a little different. It is different in that resistance always has a different trick.

I have come to see resistance as a virus. Once you are inoculated (i.e. recognize) his mode of attack, he mutates and morphs into something that will get you just as bad or worse the next time.

Today’s form was a little drama at the gas station where I get my morning drink. The clerk gave me the drink for free as retribution against his boss. After getting home, I thought about it for a nanosecond and went back to the gas station to pay for my drink. I couldn’t let that sit on my mind all day and stop me from writing.

Tomorrow resistance will try something different. There are many forms that no longer work for me. I don’t get stuck on social media, I don’t get stuck in lines at the store, I don’t take naps and I don’t spend endless hours talking with friends. I rarely shop anymore. I don’t primp. I don’t plan. I don’t start new projects. I see those for what they are, distractions from the things I set out to do every day.

I am humble because I know that he will find new ways to get me tomorrow. He will manufacture a pang in my side. He will flood my basement. He will fill my mailbox full of offers I can’t refuse. He will give me a great idea about a totally new and exciting project. He will give me so much business I won’t be able to think about anything else.

Even if I succumb for one day, I forgive myself and try again the next day.

I try every day.

October 28th, 2016

Socrates from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

The Three Most Dangerous Words In the English Language

Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor


Socrates from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

“Harv, if you’re not as successful as you’d like to be, there’s something you don’t know.”

- T Harv Eker’s friend

The other day I was reading Secrets of the Millionaire Mind in the last chapter, entitled wealth file number 17, author T Harv Eker gives us this axiom:

“Rich People Constantly Learn and Grow. Poor People Think They Already Know.”

This phrase reminds me of my biggest “pet peeve phrase” in the human language. Whenever somebody says it I inwardly cringe and become quite mentally violent (I’m working on it) and want to punch a hole through something.

That phrase is: “I know.”

Socrates, arguably the most noted philosopher of all time, famously reported that he “knew nothing.” He said this not as a young man, but a very old one. He had lived in entire life, accumulating and passing out knowledge, but he still had the humility to learn.

I can’t tell you how many times I have asked someone to do something important to have them reply “I know.”

On occasion, friends will want advice. They want to know about starting a business or writing a book or how to tell if old Auntie Erma’s vase is worth a college tuition or how to operate an SLR camera on manual.

Time and time again, I will give them advice and time and time again they will say “I already know that.”

Let me say that you don’t actually know anything until you have applied it. Knowing the “Sunny F-16 Rule” is so much different than sitting in the sunlit meadow and adjusting your manual settings on your camera. Knowing that a business takes hard work over years with great financial risk is so much different than actually executing on that work. Knowing that a book will take a lot of work is much different than sitting in a heap of rejection letters.

During Eker’s seminars, he teaches that the words “I know that” are the three most dangerous words in the English language. Those who believe they already know, have stopped the flow of learning and have reached a dead end. They are tapping the corners.

Eker then goes on to say “You can be right or you could be rich, but you can’t be both.”

What people are really saying when they say “I know,” is, “but can you tell me a very easy quick way to get it done so that I can get the prize without having to work very hard?”

My answer to that question is, “I don’t know that.”

Clearly, you don’t know. If you knew, you would be doing it or you would’ve already done it.

If you really think you do know, then apply the knowledge.

If you catch yourself using these dangerous words a lot, here are some alternatives for you to practice saying:

“I am aware of that, I just haven’t done it yet.”

“I have heard of that, but haven’t yet dived in to explore the nuances.”

“I’ve been meaning to try that.”

“I have done that and found it to be difficult, do you have any tips to help me on my journey?”

October 12th, 2016

The gorgeous mountains surrounding my Alpine home.

Hold A Daily Morning Meeting With Yourself

Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

The gorgeous mountains surrounding my Alpine home.

If you are the CEO of a large corporation, with millions of dollars at stake, high pressure from all directions, how would you start your day?

Personal habits not withstanding, what would you do anticipate business problems, keep your finger on the pulse of the profit and loss statement, check in with key employees?

My guess is you would probably have a morning meeting. If not with your entire staff, at least with your personal assistant.

In that morning meeting, you would go over the objectives for the day. You would go over your calendar and schedule. You would set forth an intention of what was to be managed by whom.

I am privileged to have spoken to several fortune CEOs over the years as well as men and women who manage hundreds of people and giant budgets. Almost every one of them has a morning meeting of some sort to start their day.

Julia Cameron, in her indispensable tome The Artist’s Way, famously advocated “morning pages” as a way to get the detritus out of your brain so that you could work. The idea goes like this, you get out three pages of blank paper and begin to write until all those pages are filled up. It doesn’t matter what you write. Could be grocery lists, insecurities, fears, random words, ideas. The point is, you get it all out so that you can function. Although this model does not work for me personally, I know that producer and podcaster Brian Koppelman has been doing them for quite some time and they are integral to his daily practice.

For me, my morning check-in consists of an hour-long walk in the mountains and trails around my home. During the walk, I literally have a meeting with myself and talk to myself about what I expect of myself during the day. These talks are sometimes very clumsy. Many mornings I haven’t fully come alive yet and tend to mumble. Other mornings I am fired up with a new idea I just learned the night before and I’m eager to discuss it with myself.

These talks with myself have a loose agenda and format. I go over the previous day to see if I kept the agreement I made with myself about what I expected to do. I go over any problems and any signs of self-sabotage. I discuss the next step, the next leap in my business, writing, and personal life. I look for things to work on and check in with myself on the progress of those topics.

I do this every day, seven days a week. If the weather is too bad then I will get in my car and go for a drive and do the same thing. Sometimes, I’ll do it in the rain and snow.

My logic is that if a fortune 500 CEOs makes the effort to have a meeting with his staff every morning in order to keep up on the problems, should I treat my life as any less important? Is there any less riding on my day to day activities then the fate of an entire company? I don’t think so. After all, don’t we all have seriously scary potential? Couldn’t any one of us perform huge and cascading acts the transcend ourselves and make the world so much better?

While I do not believe my way is the right way for everybody to check in with themselves every day, I do believe it’s the right way for me. I also believe that having some sort of morning routine is essential to living your life with purpose. At the very least, it gives you a calm sense of control over your life.

October 10th, 2016

Just Waiting

I Give You Permission

Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor // Writing Advice

Just Waiting

We are waiting.

Perhaps the waiting comes from our childhood days, our school days, the days of our first jobs, first bosses.

You remember? The clock gave us permission, the teacher gave us permission, the parent gave us permission.

After we got permission, we could play!

We are still waiting for permission. We are waiting for a parent figure, lover, a parent, a friend, or God herself to give us permission to go out and be that thing we want to be, to live our dream.

But we are never going to get that permission. Your parents aren’t paying attention. Your friends don’t care what you do. Your lover wants you to stay the way you are. God isn’t talking.

So, if you still need someone, anyone to give you permission to live your authentic, real life . . . let me step in.

I give you full permission.

If that didn’t work, simply give yourself permission.

October 3rd, 2016

puking-rainbows

How To Respond to Criticism and Feedback

Craft Of Writing // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

puking-rainbows

A few years ago I took a useless college creative writing class.

The class was useless because it was structureless, without challenge and the teacher only showed up when she felt like it.

But the $800 I paid for the class was worth it for one golden nugget of wisdom I have used countless times since.

We had a few writing assignments throughout the semester that were due whenever we felt like it. When enough of the class managed to show up with completed work, we formed a circle and performed critiques.

The teacher had one rule: when it was your turn to receive feedback, don’t say a thing.

Don’t respond.

Don’t explain.

Don’t defend.

This blew my mind.

I have been in and out critique groups for about fifteen years now and the standard ritual has been to dig your fingernails into your leg as people share their opinions of your work, tell you how bad it is and how much more work you are in for. After that, my job was to get on the explaination train, or the defense train. After the defense or explaination, the critique partners would generally smooth things over by taking back what they said or they would compliment me until daisies and rainbows shot out of my ears.

No more.

Now, whenever I recieve criticism, I say nothing, I don’t respond. I give my mind time to work on the information.

It has made all the difference.

I have found that even if someone is throwing blows at a single chapter without reference to the future chapters, they are telling me what they expect to get. They are telling me what kind of story they think it is. They are letting me know when I’m not pulling it off.

By refusing to explain, I let them have their say and there are no “take backs” or “ear flowers.” They then feel safe to critique with honesty in the future.

It’s a win-win.

Not saying anything and allowing time for the criticism to find purchase and get processed is essential to the maturation of any creative work. We are all little rebels. If someone suggests something, we dig our feet in and figure out how to get the control back. By refusing to do that you gain humility and hopefully a much better product.

Don’t explain.

Don’t defend.

Don’t respond.

September 28th, 2016

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