I subscribe to a Substack newsletter for writers by Lani Diane Rich. A few weeks ago, she wrote about being bad. On purpose. It made me laugh.
Photo by 小胖 车 on Unsplash
I’m one of those people who has a recording angel at my shoulder, busily writing down every single less-than-perfect thing I think, say, or do. It’s a full-time job.
The idea of being bad – on purpose! – caught my attention.
Well, maybe not on purpose. Maybe just living in such a way that “bad” and “good” don’t enter into … anything.
But then again, maybe on purpose. Maybe writing badly, acting badly, cleaning a dish badly, or eating a whole pizza and letting the grease run down my chin without regret or guilt on purpose.
My horror at the idea (not about the pizza, though) makes me giggle.
This writer makes a great point. Doing things badly, in general, will result in negative feedback of one kind or another. But so does doing things well. In fact, sometimes doing things well results in more negative feedback than doing them badly! Then there’s always the average middle ground: doing things well enough to get by, thereby avoiding attention for being really good or really bad.
Ugh. I’d rather be bad than fit myself into average if I can’t manage good.
How many times in my life have I thought or said, “I’m doing the best I can”?
Hundreds. Thousands. Hundreds of thousands.
Why is it my job to do the best I can?
It used to be my job because I had to justify my existence. However, I’ve outgrown that mindset now and I can’t take it very seriously. I don’t have to justify my existence anymore.
I also did it to stay safe and get loved.
Photo by Laercio Cavalcanti on Unsplash
It didn’t work.
I do it to make a deal with the Universe. I’ll do this thing as best I can if you’ll make sure I’m OK.
Hard to say if that’s effective. I’ve always been OK, but I might have been without killing myself trying to be good.
I do it to prepare for failure. I’ll try as hard as I can, and if (when) I fail, at least I’ll know I gave it my best.
Failure and success. I’ve redefined those. I haven’t always gotten the success I’ve wanted, but that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. In fact, some of my most stunning missteps and miscalculations have turned out to be life-changing gifts.
In the end, I have one good reason for being good, and that has to do with my own integrity. It’s important to me to know I’m doing the best I can in everything I do. I don’t expect praise or rewards. I’ve learned (sadly) it’s no guarantee my needs will be met. I know better than to expect reciprocity or appreciation.
It’s simply who I choose to be in the world.
But here’s a question: are “bad” and “good” mutually exclusive? Would I be more flexible, more creative, healthier, happier, and more whole if I could be bad as well as good? Is there unexplored territory in badness? Could the ability to choose to be bad be part of being good?
Could I choose to be some degree of bad along with good?
Being skilled, productive, effective, useful, kind, reliable, honest, etc., etc. all the time takes a lot of energy.
A lot of energy.
When we’re kids, we’re taught good things come to people who are good.
It would be nice if life was that easy.
I can’t help but notice while I’m doing my best from dawn to dusk some other people are not. Other people are sloppy and lazy and careless and they’re not struck down dead by a celestial lightning bolt.
A little voice in my head says that’s all the more reason I have to be continually good, to pick up the slack the fuck-it-I-don’t-care people leave.
Bullshit. I’m not the Cosmic Miss Fix-It.
Maybe it’s okay to think about taking a break from the job of being “so goddamn excellent all the time,” in Lani’s words.
Everyone needs a day off now and then. A lunch break. A vacation. Maybe I’ve worked too much overtime being excellent. Maybe I’ve lost my work-life balance.
I wasn’t ready to do either of these things, and I’m not ready to have to go in the water and rescue someone at work, either.
Wait! Let me think about this some more. Let me prepare. Let me figure out how to do it perfectly.
Except life doesn’t wait.
Godin is so right. When someone is drowning, I’m going in. It doesn’t matter if I have the proper gear, equipment, attire, or level of energy and alertness. The temperature of the water doesn’t matter. I won’t wonder which form of entry to use. I won’t plan an approach. I probably won’t follow the exact script in our Emergency Action Plan. None of us will. I will blow my whistle, and if I don’t have my whistle, I’ll yell. Loudly. And I’ll go in.
I’ve moved house before. I’ve sold, bought, and figured out how to make it work. I’m not ready, because no one ever is ready, at least not if ready means knowing every detail beforehand. I wouldn’t have planned to decide to do this in late fall with winter and the holidays looming ahead. It just unfolded that way.
I’ve been thinking for years about ways to get my fiction into the world. Why Substack? Why now? Especially why now when I decide at the same time we need to move?
I don’t know. It’s time. It’s just time.
We re-certify every two years to keep our lifeguard status, and we train frequently. I have experience with moving. I have a disciplined writing practice and am an experienced blogger.
Performing a water rescue, buying a new home and moving into it, publishing on Substack, are all things I can do. I’ve done them, or something similar to them, before. There will be no perfect time. Rehearsing won’t help me. It’s just a way of allowing my anxiety and all the critics in my head to sabotage me.
While we’re hesitating, afraid of failure or less-than-perfect, opportunity slips away. While we’re waiting for the “right time,” we’re losing the time we have now. While we’re rehearsing how to pull a passive victim off the bottom of the deep end, they’re drowning.
For me, the key is not so much courage, which I have plenty of. It’s confidence, which I struggle with. But a lot of my struggle with confidence is based on old lies and distortions that are not real. I know I can perform a water rescue because I’ve done it before, many times in practice and a couple of times in real life. It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t look like the Red Cross training videos, where everyone is calm, the sun is shining, and it’s all by the book. But nobody drowned. Nobody died.
I hate moving. It opens up a lot of old trauma. But we need to move, and I know I can do it. I know liquor boxes make the best book boxes. I know how to show a house. I know how to navigate the legalities. I know where my power is, and I know what I can’t control in the process. It’s a familiar journey. Waiting for nicer weather, for the market to get better for sellers, better for buyers, or more stable in general; waiting for loans to be easier to obtain, or interest rates to go down, or to win the lottery; waiting for the stars to align just right because I’m scared, is not effective. The time is now. We’ll figure it out. Whether we have two years or a month of the process ahead of us, it’s begun and it will play out the way it plays out. It will be stressful, and exhausting, and a chaos of boxes (and cats) and belongings, tape and markers, and things we can’t find. It won’t be perfectly thought out or executed.
On Substack, people will read or they won’t. People will like the fiction, or they won’t. They’ll tell their friends and share it, they’ll comment, they’ll help me build a healthy, interactive community engaged in discussing community, story, and how to live more effectively on our planet, or they won’t. I didn’t start out perfectly. I go back every couple of days and tweak things. I’m figuring it out as I go.
We figure life out as we go. Our friends help us. We learn. We adjust. We make mistakes. We do our best.
So, yeah. If you go down in one of our pools while I’m on the stand, I’m coming in after you, and the rest of my team will be right behind me. I’m not ready. But I’m coming in.
We compare ourselves to others in contests and competitions. Our capitalist culture shapes us to believe winners receive the most money and fame.
Our culture assures us money and fame equal power, and winners have to spend a lot of money in order to win. Everyone else has to spend a lot of money in order to compete with them.
The fact is, contests and competitions produce one winner and many losers. But those losers want to win, so they spend even more money to become winners.
Win-win for capitalism, but lose-lose for almost everyone else.
I recently heard of a question on Facebook to men: What woman do you admire?
Nearly all the answers involved women of extraordinary intelligence and talent who have made important contributions to the world but are not necessarily well known, although their male colleagues are!
Are they losers because they’re not rich and famous? Can they be winners if we’ve never heard of them?
Is our win meaningful if nobody recognizes it? Is it meaningful if it’s not part of our identity?
Is it the win we care about, or the validation, power and applause we expect to receive as a winner?
Are our wins and losses about what we think of ourselves (empowering) or about what others think of us (disempowering)?
How important is winning? More important than the truth? More important than our own integrity and dignity? More important than our health and well-being?
Is our win really about someone else losing (I’ll show them!)?
Winning, like perfectionism and people pleasing, is a moving target, not a permanent state. Winners come and go, just like losers. Money and fame come and go, just like winners.
Our personal power stays with us, win or lose, rich or poor, famous or unknown. We each hold the keys to our own success.
(For the beginning of this series of posts, inspired by Allan Savory’s book, Holistic Management, begin here.)
Allan Savory’s holistic decision-making process “ends” with a feedback loop of planning (assuming the plan is wrong, as in planning for failure), monitoring, controlling, and replanning.
So, having spent a couple of months working with this model and writing about it, what have I got? Where am I?
I have no idea! I feel like I’m in the middle of a hairball.
Using Savory’s template is not the problem. It’s elegant, logical, effective, and sustainable. It’s a model based on power-with and win-win.
It’s effective because learning the process has successfully excavated resistance, blocks, and unconscious beliefs that are and have always been obstacles for me in all areas of my life. Until and unless I deal with my internal landscape, neither this process nor any other will work for me.
As I think about defining my creative output and consider how to get it in front of those who would find value in my work, I’m forced into a narrow focus. I’m forced into choice and commitment.
In the beginning, starting Our Daily Crime and writing my books was an act of defiance. I had no expectations at all. My motivation was to express myself honestly in spite of what anyone thought or said.
Now, years later, I’ve created a body of work, grown from those first bitter seeds of defiance. I discover I’ve written a blueprint, a map for reclaiming and managing personal power through emotional intelligence. It’s not finished. It will never be finished. Not everyone wants it, or can use it.
But some people do, and can. People like me.
Who are they? Where are they? How do I find them?
Upon waking this morning, dimly hearing peepers in the pond (Spring!), a robin, and a couple of barred owls, I had this thought:
I cannot be/give/do/create anything that anyone wants.
To say that’s a belief is completely inadequate. It’s a law of nature, like gravity, immutable, everlasting, absolutely indestructible.
It’s a belief that underlies my whole life.
Is it true?
Panic stations! It doesn’t matter. I refuse to answer that question right now.
OK, I said to myself. Let me ask you this: If it were not true, how would you find your audience?
Now, that’s a question I can work with!
I would have fallen on Our Daily Crime and its content with joy and relief, had I found it eight or ten years ago. It’s exactly the support and resource I needed.
I well remember how I started on the journey of emotional intelligence and power reclamation. I know where I’ve found my people – and where I haven’t. I follow several people who add value to my life and serve as teachers, guides, and examples of simplicity, honesty, and effective marketing. They have found their audience.
I can find mine, too.
If I empower the belief that I have nothing to contribute that anyone wants, I’m at the end of possibility as a writer. If I acknowledge the belief and work around it anyway, I’m in a new world of unexplored, unimagined possibilities, and Savory’s model provides me with a decision-making tool that allows me to pursue my own joy and success, remain cooperative and authentic, and maintain healthy connections with others. Everybody wins.
From Seth Godin: “When we adopt the posture of commitment, something extraordinary happens: The lessons get more profound and useful. The questions asked get more specific and urgent. The connections that are made get deeper.”
“The discipline is to invest one time in getting your workflow right … Hacking your way through something “for now” belies your commitment to your work …”
This year I decided I was going to build a more secure life over the next three years, and I began to work on a business writing plan using a holistic management template created by Allan Savory. I’ve been writing about this process as I grope my way through it.
I’ve spent a great deal of time asking myself questions, writing notes, identifying obstacles, defining the whole I’m trying to manage, listing resources, outlining my holistic context, and thinking about interconnection and ecosystems.
A concatenation of recent events and more closely identifying my needs and resources led me to find a new hosting company and migrate the blog from one host to another.
My skill level is way below this kind of data transfer, so I researched and chose a new hosting company, gave them my credit card number, and sat back to let the tech wizards do their thing.
After the transfer, everything looked good. I had a minor problem with my header image that was obvious and easy to fix. I immediately went back to weekly posting and plodding through SEO work.
A week ago, it came to my attention that all my internal links, the links from one of my posts to another, were broken. This amounts to thousands of links, and is a major catastrophe for SEO rankings.
I had chosen the new hosting company based on, among other services, the availability of 24/7 tech support and their advertised expertise with WordPress, which is the platform for this blog. Everything had worked perfectly on the old server and I was sure this link problem was a glitch in the transfer process. I called tech support.
I called tech support three times that day, in fact. I explained the problem to each person, gave them examples, and told them what I’d done with the previous support person, but I quickly lost track of who was suggesting what changes and got more and more confused and desperate with each call. I followed all recommendations. Nothing fixed the links.
I struggled all week with tech support, in between work shifts and a power outage. I didn’t post or do SEO work, because I began to have trouble even signing in to WordPress, let alone working on the blog.
Later in the week, during my fifth call, the support person said that she’d never seen links break the way mine had before, she didn’t know what to do, and the hosting company doesn’t actually work on internal links anyway! But to please call back if I continued to have problems and would I stay on the line and take a short survey about my support experience?
The depth of my distress over this is hard to overstate. I had not realized how much this space means to me until it seemed to be irrevocably broken. It’s not that I have a big audience or an intimate social community around it. It’s not that I get a lot of comments or feedback. It’s not that I think it will make me rich.
I think it’s that this writing is the most authentic, truthful thing I do in the world that’s in the public view. It’s also a significant exercise in self-discipline, courage, and commitment. I love my paid job and the people I work with, but I’ve had many beloved jobs and made satisfying contributions in my work before now. I am not the job.
I am the writing. The threat of losing it made me realize how meaningless my life would seem without it.
The part of me that’s so good at stepping back and observing from the corner of the ceiling has been watching all this. In trying to take some forward action and gathering the courage to make a true commitment, financially, internally and publicly, the blog broke. The financial commitment of a new hosting company didn’t pay off. I couldn’t find the support I needed. Not only that, whatever went wrong wasn’t a normal problem, but something (supposedly) never seen before. All my old beliefs about being a burden and broken in profound, ugly, and no-help-for-you ways sprang into life again.
One of my goals is to build a support team for my writing. Was this a message that my writing and I are not worth supporting and will never be successful? Was it a message that there is no support for such as me and I must find a way to learn and do it all?
I was beyond discouraged.
Then, in less than an hour, an extremely bizarre string of events occurred. My partner unearthed the business card of a web designer from whom we bought drums off of Craig’s List about five years ago. We met her in a parking lot in Portland. She and my partner hit it off and she handed him her card. He came home and added it to one of his innumerable piles.
He remembered that card, found it (perhaps the biggest miracle of all), called her at GreenLight Websites, and left a message. She called him back, he explained the problem, gave her the login information, and within half an hour she emailed me that the links were fixed. The fix had been so quick and easy, she said she didn’t need any money for her work.
I checked, in between mopping my face and blowing my nose, which I’d been doing for days. She was right. The links were fixed. Free of charge.
The links were fixed!
In the process of leaving a review for her business, we realized she hosts as well. Her prices are much higher than the host company I originally chose, as money is a very limited resource for me right now, but she specializes in WordPress (backed up by action this time), she’s local, she’s a successful female small business owner with an amazing portfolio, she’s a drummer, she has green hair, and she’s my age. She also does all kinds of web design and consulting.
We considered for about 10 seconds before deciding to host with her.
Nowhere on my wish list of a writing support team was a web designer and consultant. I’ve been looking for an agent, editor and publisher.
I’ve lived long enough to recognize this as one of those completely unexpected journeys we take as we’re carefully plotting and planning a straight line move from A to B. I made a commitment, and those who know me well will tell you once I make up my mind everyone might just as well get out of my way. I think Godin is right, though. The act of making the commitment causes things to start happening.
It was not my plan to start spending significant amounts of money before figuring out how to make some money, but here I am.
It was not my plan to include a web specialist in my support team, but here I am.
It was not my plan to have the blog break down and temporarily undo all my hard SEO work, but it happened anyway.
Progress is a funny thing. Sometimes it looks like collapse, breakdown, and reversal. Often, it’s not going in the direction we had in mind, but in another direction entirely. The purpose of Savory’s model is to accommodate unexpected, edge-of-chaos events and unintended consequences in whatever our situation is.