argument

How To Win Every Argument (Even the Ones Against Yourself)

Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

argument

College philosophy classes aren’t what you think they are.

First, they don’t teach you truths of the universe. They don’t know any. There are thousands of theories and each theory has a complicated “ism” attached to it. If you’ve ever come up with a theory of how even the tiniest philosophical subject operates in the world, you can guarantee someone already thought of it, attached an ism to it and wrote ten to twelve mind-numbing confusion opuses on the subject–and they did it 300 years before you were born. All beliefs ever conceived have been drilled down to mathematical proofs. Philosophy professors spend their time attempting to squeeze the tiniest drop of connective idea juice out of centuries-old subjects and are scrambling to make their name by pairing these old ideas with trendy concepts today so they can get tenure. The entire industry is something of a snake eating its own tail. God bless education.

What philosophy classes really teach is how to argue a point.

This turns out to be an immensely valuable skill–in fact, many pre-law students take philosophy courses for this very reason. Argumentation is intrinsic in almost all aspects of life. At its core, an argument is a belief about how things should be or are. You, the arguer, are a messenger for that belief.

Every work of art is an argument for belief.

Every sale is an argument for a product.

Every service is an argument for benefit.

Every action is an argument for payoff.

Even tiny conversations with people in our everyday lives can become an argument of “whose version of reality are we going to honor right now.”

When we go throughout life with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, we are arguing with ourselves over “how we should act” or “what we should do.”

There are two ways to win an argument:

1. QUESTION THE PREMISE

Every argument has a premise where we must start in order to begin the argument. In one of my classes, the teacher asked the question: “How can evil exist if God is omnibenevolent?” The premises of the argument are: 1 – There is a God, and 2 – He is omnibenevolent. Once we accept those premises, then we can get to the core of arguing about evil until the bell rings. But many students refused to argue about evil, saying first that there is no proof that God is omnibenevolent. Other students said, there is no proof that there is a God. One can’t argue about evil if both premises are put into question. Therefore, by destroying the premise, one wins the argument.

How do we use this in regular life?

A premise often comes in the form of an accusation. It starts with “You always . . . ” or “You never . . .” and is then followed up by a conclusion. “Therefore you . . . .”

An example of accusation would be someone commenting, “You never have trouble completing projects, how are you so well-organized?” You may then respond by talking about how you are organized. But in reality, you may have huge trouble completing projects and so by rejecting the untrue premise, you may come to a deeper and more helpful truth about how you complete projects even with trouble and lack of organization.

A premise can also come in the form of an opinion. You may be at a party and someone says, “Everyone says Breaking Bad is a great show, but it’s totally immoral–I can’t see why people can justify watching it.”

You may be a huge Breaking Bad fan and totally disagree with this opinion and be tempted to say, “No, man it is the best show and I thought the bathtub scene was amazing!”

This doesn’t really further discussion or give your party friend a place to go. A better argument–and one that might inspire more thoughtful discourse–would be, “Actually, Breaking Bad is filled with morality. It argues that man is destroyed by his selfish desires for power. Walter is led to every possible horror precisely because his acts are immoral and he is destroyed by his actions. The writers had a strong moral center to their script, therefore, Breaking Bad is one of the most moral shows around today.”

2. DEFINE DOWN THE LINE

We argue with words and the precise meaning of those words are vital. If my teacher says, “God is omnibenevolent, therefore how can evil exist?” I might counter by saying, “How do you define omnibenevolence?” the teacher might answer, “He has our best interests at heart.” And I might say, “What do you mean by ‘best interests’.” And they might go on to say, “He wants us to live a journey where we can come to grace.” And I might say, “What is your definition of grace?” and on and on.

Asking a person to “define down the line” is an incredibly important activity. It may seem like it doesn’t get us anywhere because we aren’t arguing about evil, as the original consequent stated. However, knowing the definitions helps us inform that consequent. If I understand that my teacher believes in the God of grace–then I can design an argument around free will. If he believes that God is “testing us” then I can design an argument around evil being for our benefit and therefore it is part of omnibenevolence.

The trouble with this tactic is that you can define down the line to Infinitum. I’ve tried it. A classmate and I picked an argument and we went through the definitions of hundreds of words before we had to go to a different class. We were never able to argue the point because we first had to figure out what we were even arguing.

A careful reader may realize that neither of these tactics actually help you win an argument, mainly because they destroy the argument before it has even begun. In essence, you are attacking the foundations of the argument so points can never be made about the issue.

Your opponent is likely to shift to a new subject, tire out, or become confused before they are able to make their case.

Next week I will write about arguments we have with ourselves and go into some depth about the pitfalls to these arguments. If you are interested in these posts, please sign up for the mailing list!

 

 

 

 

February 10th, 2017

juggle

Ten Reasons Why You Should Do Everything At Once

Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor // Uncategorized

juggle

Today I was sitting in a lecture listening to my teacher bemoan the productivity of a colleague. This colleague (whose name I couldn’t bother to write down) is on the short list for the Nobel Prize, has written dozens of books in his spare time and holds down a demanding teaching job at a prestigious school while raising a family and participating actively in various leagues, committees and so forth. My teacher kept saying of his books, “He wrote that one IN HIS SPARE TIME! His SPARE TIME!”

Have you ever met one of these people? Someone who has many lives at the same time and they seem to be pulling them all off? They can do just about everything and with so much style and class we can’t approach their greatness even on our best days?

I look to these people for help. Right now (and for the last three years) I have taken on everything at the same time without any thought (or iota of caring) as to if this was healthy or not.

Oh, I’ve heard all the arguments. “It’s better to go in one direction at fifty miles an hour than five directions at one mile an hour.” and “Don’t be a jack of all trades and master of none.” I mostly ignore these arguments.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that I have a working DNA that, no matter how much good advice I get to the contrary, is not budging. For instance, I realized after years of trying, that I am not a morning person and waking up at 4 am is stupid for me. I now ignore all the studies and character assessments labeling early birds as the indomitable masters of reality. Screw them and watch the moon set, is my new motto.

I’ve also tried doing one thing at a time. That does not work for me. I need at least three pigs on the spit at a time, maybe four. I need at least hopes, three directions. This helps me in the following ways:

1. I never get bored. There is always way too much to do and I always have a direction. This is incredibly important to me. As Morrissey says, I am “Drawn to what scares me and scared of what bores me.”

2. If one direction is going badly (and this happens weekly) I have the hope of the other two. Today, I woke up at 6 am and wrote 3,000 words–every one of which stunk hardcore. But I had great sales and my classes weren’t too shabby. Hope remains. Tomorrow the writing will go well but my professors will throw a pop quiz at me on which I will do semi-terribly. Doesn’t matter because the writing will have gone great.

3. I am forced to become ridiculously efficient, or perish. I have to think of every cog and every slot of time and I have to think really carefully about how my systems work. I have to continually question assumptions and obliterate the ones that don’t serve my outcomes. A recent one had to do with destroying the belief that slow writing is great writing. This is not always the case, I am learning. Every day I am finding new corners to smooth out and new systems to implement.

4. I get to practice the art of “Intuitive Procrastination.” This means I may not have time this week for the dental appointment, so I have to put it off, but I do have time to finish the artwork on a cover because I cleared out the day for that task. I may not get to answering that annoying customer, but I will get a paper written. In all things I must assess the ocean of my tasks and determine which objects therein are rocks and which are sand. The rocks are hard deadlines, immovable. You don’t want to crash into them. The “sand” are tasks that time will smooth over and eventually become obsolete–things like dental appointments and naggy emails from corporations to update your credit card information. If I do them today or next week, it won’t matter much.

5. It obliterates depression. On weeks where I get a lot done and have a lot of great interactions, I feel like I have a purpose, and thus feel fantastic. The feeling of no direction is the twin brother to existential meaninglessness and sends me off a nihlist cliffside. Then I’m no good for anyone and tend to pin down friends and family with long verbal essays on the nature of existence and reality and the tragedy of being a thinking being without being an all-understanding being. This behavior horrifies everyone around me. It’s so much better to have a wall to paint or a typewriter to restore. If I am chasing carrots, there is no death.

6. They feed eachother. Oftentimes in my classes I have learned about a painter or artist and can therefore recognize their work, should I come across a print or poster or . . . gasp! The real thing. I hear about philosophical principles that I can work into some fiction. Today I met a guy who is in a fight club. He has califlour ears and everything. His knowledge will help me write my next non-fic book about argument.

7. Things take too long to pay off. I realized that even if I put in 10x effort at the beginning, I won’t get 10x outcome. Effort and reward are often terribly disproportional, mostly because systems are set up to keep newbies out. I can’t get a bachelor’s degree in a year, even if never sleep. The fact is, I can only sign up for 21 credits at a time. Sure, I could triple up by drawing credits from other schools, but most schools don’t let you do that past your generals. Likewise, if I open a new online store, I can list 2,000 items the first day, but I will not make many sales, if any. I have to slowly send out little advertising birdies and accumulate customers first. Because things can take years, I put in effort proportional to the current outcome, plus one. That plus one represents growth. In the random case that things pay off right away (and this has happened!) then, grand! I struck gold.

8. Davinci, the bearded badass himself, was never just one thing, but had many careers, inventions, talents and directions. If I can be like him in any way, I’ll take it . . . Except the beard.

9. Time flies. If you’re waiting for spring. If you’re waiting for the ship to come in. If you’re in the waiting place at all, this is a good way to wait. You hardly notice the time flying. Now, our pseudo-Buddhist-meditating-spiritualist-snob culture extols the virtues of being “in the moment” but to be honest, I want to live in all the moments at once. Tried the whole “being in the moment” thing and I think it’s an idealist concept that never really materializes. Currently, I’m waiting for summer so I can hike again. I’m waiting for stocks to go up. I’m waiting for my next trip. I’m waiting for the end of the semester. I’m waiting for Sharknado 11.

10. I don’t have time for vice. I don’t have time to gossip with the neighbors. I don’t have time to watch the Real Housewives of Burly Idaho (though I’d watch the heck outta that IF it existed), I don’t have time to shop, I don’t have time to make mischief. I DO take time for myself, though, in ways that count harder. I do have time to think and vacation and hang out with people. I don’t have time to waste.

 

 

February 3rd, 2017

School-of-Rock

Should You Quit Your Job to Pursue Your Passion?

Antiques & Vintage // Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor

Ah, the question of our generation . . . should we leave our jobs to pursue our passions? Or should we continue to work for the man in hopes of collecting that elusive drug: money.

I left my corporate job in 2012 and have long thought of the reasons why I was driven with a mad passion to do so.

In addition to writing, I own and operate a small antique e-commerce business. Although we are doing well, there are many drawbacks to this line of work. The first is that I don’t get paid unless I work every single day (at times including Saturdays and Sundays). Even though I have employees, most days I work alone, whether it’s sourcing product, photographing product, shipping product or researching product, I’m usually alone. At times I will hire temporary help, models, shippers and photographers, but those times are few and far between.

I used to work corporate (EvilCorp). Whole days would pass by the water cooler where I did nary a thing but chat about the latest Sufjan Stevens album. We got free lunches. I had contact with human beings that were very close to friend-type people. I got stock options.

Other than the yawning abyss chasing me down at two in the afternoon, I was quite comfortable. So comfortable I became bored.

I’ve written about this before. Boredom scares me to death. I start to make mischief. I get into trouble.

I left the job to restart my antique business that was on hold after the market crash in 2009. Without the structure of a regular job, I felt I was part of an entirely new reality. If I wanted to sleep all day, I could. If I wanted to spend all day playing ping pong, I could. No one was going to make me do anything. I could only rely on myself. This had some consequences. Time became perilously precious. I could no longer justify wasting the day in idle chit chat, or having lunch with friends because my time directly translated to my money.

The other night I had dinner with a large group of former co-workers who all still work for EvilCorp. I felt a bit sheepish explaining that I spent most of my days playing with old toys, sifting through other people’s attics and attending philosophy courses at the local college–and that it all was fun as hell.

They all smiled and nodded and I changed the subject.

I know how it must sound to them.

Why do some of us choose this way of working?

Here are a few theories.

1. TROUBLE WITH AUTHORITY

It’s a well-documented phenomenon. A child grows up with untrustworthy, cruel or inconsistent adults and they grow to distrust authority and even see them as silly fools. We learn to do the opposite of what they do. We feel we can’t trust these people will sustain us, so we start our own venture.

2. WE LIKE TO RULE OUR TINY KINGDOMS

This hearkens back to an earlier post on people who don’t like to compete. Some of us (and I will freely admit this is true for me) would rather rule a tiny kingdom of one (or a handful of people) than be a peasant in another person’s kingdom, even if it’s a benevolent kingdom. I track this tendency in me back to vast tracts of childhood spent alone with animals, toys and myself. They were all my tiny worlds and I loved them but most importantly, they didn’t make me do stuff I didn’t want to do or be something I didn’t want to be. I must note that I am not condoning this way of thinking as the universally correct way of thinking. There are many drawbacks to it. I am simply pointing out that there are many people out there with such “royal sensibilities.”

3. PEOPLE EXHAUST US

I love people and can spend all day chit chatting. However, I find that the mental power this requires overwhelms the heat sink capacity in my language center and I get exhausted in a way that feels like my soul has been flushed out my ears. I have to be alone in order to recuperate. This recuperation time is not possible for those of us who have families who we must care for at night, so working alone helps with our social recovery.

4. WE ARE “MODEL CHAMELEONS”

Some of us have a keen awareness of other people’s points of view and have the ability to adapt our own outlook to theirs when we are around them. This causes a cognitive dissonance that can literally confuse us as to what we want and how we should live our lives, pushing us into many directions–none of them what we might chose on our own. These types of people are called “people-pleasers” and I am absolutely of this variety of human. Remaining in a static self-supported environment helps us keep focused on what WE want and believe, not what others want and believe.

5. WE HAVE CONTROL ISSUES

Let’s be clear. Control issues are not always a bad thing. I suspect a great deal of people who have achieved great things were some version of a control freak. We absolutely need to feel that we have control in our lives in order to tamp down anxiety. This is why cleaning out our fridge can be more pleasurable than writing our next chapter. Some of us feel out of control when our financial fate is contingent on the whims of an indifferent corporation, and that feeling of lack of control can be intolerable.

6. WE WANT SOMETHING MORE FOR OURSELVES

Born within us is a huge desire to change something about the world before we give up the ghost. Even if it’s small, we want to affect some sort of transformation. We know that those who transform the culture often have a glory not given to mere drones. We go after that glory because . . . why not us?

7. WE TRIED IT AND DECIDED IT’S NOT THE ANSWER

What will make us happier? Sometimes we don’t know until we try both options. We believe that something we do for 8+ hours per day should at least be fun, interesting or challenging enough to keep us from hanging ourselves in the closet, and the job just isn’t either of those things for us. Therefore, we may try our hand at building something new simply to eliminate all possibilities.

8. WE ARE DUMB FOOLS

You’d have to be a dumb fool to think, “Yeah, I’m going to start my own business! I’m gonna invent a new product! I’m gonna end water contamination in the Philippines!” We are dumb fools because we have no idea how much competition is already out there, or we have no idea of how much it will actually take out of us. The idea may be new to us, and so we make the mistake of thinking the idea is new to the world. Trust me, there are no new ideas, only new names, descriptions, and particulars. Also, because we are not yet in the arena of competition, we may assume there are no other combatants, or at least a trivial few. When we develop our idea deeper, we find–sometimes terrifyingly–that there are almost innumerable other players in the arena, and many of them are far more clever and lucky than us. Therefore, it is important, in some respect, to be a dumb fool.  If we weren’t, we would probably never get started.

9. WE PREFER INVISIBLE REJECTION TO OUTRIGHT REJECTION

We face all kinds of rejection in our lives. Invisible rejection is what happens when faceless people who we don’t know refuse to buy our product. Outright rejection is when a specific person says no. Self-published authors face invisible rejection. Traditionally published authors face outright rejection. Invisible rejection can hurt less because of the nature of the nameless, faceless masses. While both hurt, one has less of a sting.

10. THE GLASS CEILING DISAPPEARS

In every corporation, there is a hierarchy that represents how high one can ascend. In your own venture, the sky is the limit.

11. WE WANT TO MAKE SOMETHING THAT DOESN’T EXIST

Possibly the noblest of reasons for going out on our own is that we badly want something to exist and it doesn’t. We think “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a website where people could buy little outfits for the fire hydrants in front of their houses?” So we go out and build that website it just so it will exist. Our culture absolutely needs this kind of person because these thoughts lead to all manner of huge changes, and change is what we want.

The great news is, we don’t have to cast our working lives in stone. Should we try the solo venture and fail, there is always time to become a middle manager at a cereal box manufacturing plant. Perhaps the comfort of perceived stability will allow us to flourish in ways that the struggling entrepreneur, writer or change-maker cannot.

January 25th, 2017

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

roman_arena

What To Do If You Hate Competition — Part Two

Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor // Marketing // Writing Advice

roman_arena

Last week I wrote a bit about how much I hate competition. Since then I’ve received a few responses and emails about this topic and I can tell it hit home with some people. The richness of responses prompted me to think about it a lot more deeply.

Looking back on my life, I have had a few successes that have won me some of the prizes we are all after, that is: love, money, good feelings and great relationships.

In every case where I had achieved success, I did so because during the process of achieving these things, I attracted people and things to my life because I was being me. Most of these incidents felt like accidents. One day, an opportunity dropped on my lap. Another time, I met a key person. But thinking of the circumstances behind such events, there is a clear correlation: I was in the act of being “the most of myself I could be” when they all happened.

Conversely, when I have pretended to be something other than my true self, it has ended only in disaster. The recipe goes like this: I want something, I exercise those mirror neurons and copy whatever I need to copy in order to attract it, then I get it, then I am in misery, or I disappoint, or I fail, or I ruin it. I fail because I simply can’t keep up with the charade any longer. It’s too painful, it’s too inauthentic. It isn’t ultimately what I want.

You can’t pretend to be something other than you are for very long.

This happens in the early stages of romantic relationships a lot. Ever noticed how many people put “I like hiking” on their dating profiles? These people don’t like hiking. They don’t go hiking. They simply hike once to get the date, to seem adventurous, then it’s Netflix on the couch with popcorn like everybody else.

It’s super scary to be ourselves. That’s because “ourselves” are pretty ordinary, kinda pathetic sometimes and a little weird. We definitely aren’t as interesting as the people on television, or as funny or as good. We are human.

We don’t want anyone to find out.

What does this really have to do with your distaste of competition?

Tim Ferris recently did a great post about some powerful questions he asks himself. One of them is: “What’s the least crowded channel?”

In any endeavor, there are tried and true channels. To get something published you need to get an agent. That’s a super crowded channel. One agent I talked to got 1,000+ queries per month. Another reported it was more like 2,500.

When you are in a crowded channel, you must compete. No question. You must write the best and brightest query, have a hot idea, get the right personalities to look it over, etc. etc. You are doing this and so is everyone else. You are in the arena, gutting your competition with a spear.

And you hate it, don’t you?

That’s because you secretly don’t feel like it’s right. You are a peaceful soul. You don’t feel like you should fight. You should be immediately recognized as a champion because you know you are. You put in the time, the money. You have your ten thousand hours. You’ve read the books. Now you have to fight too?

I can hear the chorus say, “Yes! You have to fight! There is no way around it!”

I’m the pipsqueaky mouse under the stands shouting “Ahem, not really.”

When I started a store in an uncrowded market, I got sales immediately. I grew fast. I had almost no trouble.

When I started a store in a crowded channel, I had to fight to get seen, to get sales. The fight was expensive in advertising dollars and personal time and sanity. I still didn’t get the spoils.

In the first store, I was being me. In the second store, I was being someone else.

You are the most uncrowded channel!

Joseph Campbell calls this “Following your bliss.” If you have something you love, even if it’s embarrassing, weird, mock-worthy or even stupid, you must consider running after it with more speed and vigor than before. This is your little crack, your way.

If what you love is traditionally a crowded channel (like writing, sports supplements, as seen on TV gadgetry) then you have to figure out what your weird little spin on it is then spin, spin away!

You have to create a territory. A comfy little nest for yourself.

If you find yourself persuing something that gives you almost no pleasure and mostly lots of pain, it might be because you are trying to compete in an overcrowded arena or trying to be one of your heroes.

Go make your own arena, go be your own hero.

 

 

December 15th, 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

im-watching-you

Once You Realize No One Is Watching, You Can Do The Real Work

Encouragement & Philosophy // Erika Viktor // Writing Advice

im-watching-you

Good news!

No one is watching.

Few people care.

You are invisible.

Does this not sound like good news? I hope to change your mind about that.

Part of the reason people fail in their early efforts, is that they believe everyone is watching.

Animals freeze when they spot something observing them in the trees. They will not react until they understand the threat, ascertain the situation and analyze the next move. Until that moment, they are stuck. I see this all the time with deer during my morning walks. It’s comical to see their indecision. What is that thing? Do I keep munching, or run? It is only when I either pounce like a cat or keep on walking that their minds are made up. Before that, they are in the ugly state known as analysis paralysis.

You are a sophisticated animal. You do the same thing. Unless, of course, you realize that no one is watching.

Once you figure out that your mom isn’t going to read your book, your neighbor doesn’t know where your business is, your sister could care less about your fitness routine, things begin to change.

No one is watching.

This is freedom.

For all the bids for fame we participate in during our lifetime, we can fail to realize the hidden beauty of being mostly, completely unknown.

This week, in an interview with Vanity Fair, Jennifer Lawrence ranted about her inability to function outside of four walls, due to the suffocation of her own fame.

Authors, after achieving fame, sometimes adopt a new name in order to reinvent themselves. They shed their old skin and don a new one, hoping to grab the goodies of being unknown.

What are these goodies?

1. Being unknown allows you to make as many artistic and business mistakes as it takes to get it right, without a high social consequence.

2. Being unknown frees you from the paralyzing fear that people will find out how mediocre you really are.

3. Being unknown gives you freedom to move, pivot, remake, redo and retry without backlash.

4. Being unknown gives you the courage to do something strange, different or controversial.

5. Being unknown gives you space to work at your own pace.

6. Being unknown allows you to tell the truth.

Let’s face it, we all dream of the money and fame that comes to well-established icons of greatness. However, when we start (and everyone has to start at the bottom) we sometimes think that all our friends and family and coworkers are thrumming their fingers together, judging us.

I used to think so too, until I wrote my first book.

A few years back, I had a lot to celebrate. I had completed an epic novel, a book that took me five years and thousands of hours to write (on average five hours of work per day, the equivalent of 380 straight days of work). I was immensely proud to have finished it. To make matters more exciting, when I began to submit the book I had three agents interested in representation. After chatting with all three agents, I chose the one that seemed the most enthusiastic and we began the submission process.

I received notes from wonderful editors. Some of these editors were huge names, people who I could only dream of hearing from.

Amidst all this excitement, I decided to send my book to my family, who had politely asked about it at dinner parties. I sent an email to 18 people. My parents, my grandparents, my siblings, all my close aunts and uncles and my husband, none of which had read any part of the book. In the email, I included the submission letter from my agent (who had very glowing things to say about the book and my writing) as well as promising feedback from several big editors, including a high ranker at Disney Studios. Attached to this email was my magnum opus along with a request to read it.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

I heard nothing back.

Nothing from anyone.

Not a single “Wow! This is exciting!” Not even a, “I will read this on my next trip!” Not a single phone call.

Zip. Zero. Zilch.

While my writer’s group did read it (thank you, guys!) not one person who shared my genetics (or my bed) degned to click a button and check it out.

At first, this really hurt. Then I began to think of it as a hidden opportunity. I began to write more honestly, and insert more vulnerability into my stories and articles. I penned darker fiction, stuff that would make my grandmother’s hair curl. My characters acted out the pieces of the human condition we are not supposed to talk about. I got things published.

It helped in business too. I was stifled by my family’s criticism and dislike of the used, vintage junk I was so fond of. For years I had endured comment after comment, or worse, stony silence regarding my adoration. When I took time off and worked corporate, my job was acceptable, but when I worked vintage, I was weird and possibly insane.

Once I realized that they weren’t actually paying attention, I reopened my vintage shop and in mere months it grew to become the number one shop in my niche, serving tens of thousands of customers locally and worldwide.

But what if people really are watching, you ask? What if you’ve published your book, launched your business and are in the thick of getting noticed?

If that’s the case, it’s important to realize that though your stats are soaring and your presence is building, people still aren’t watching.

The scarcity of attention is a well written-about topic. Everybody wants yours and you want everybody’s. At times, you will get a little of it. That sure feels great when it happens, but you must think of the “watching” in the abstract. You must think of the likes, the follows, the stats as good, but impersonal.

It isn’t about you at all. It’s about the fix you provide.

The human condition is pain. The essence of selling is the alleviation of pain (insert Princess Bride quote here). We are all rushed, harassed and in desperate need of a fix. If you provide a nice fix, you get that momentary upvote. But in no time, that person will go on to the next fix and the next and the next. They aren’t watching that closely because they are watching themselves excruciatingly closely, they can’t see you jumping for attention behind their own mirror image, behind the shiny new toy they just ordered from Amazon.

So go out, do the thing. Fail. Embarrass yourself. Be really bad at it. Be weird and ugly and strange.

And if you do, I promise not to look too closely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 24th, 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

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