I met an older woman recently who was sort of like looking into the future for me. I mean, we were very different in many ways, but something about her regrets in life stuck with me.
She was a good, Jewish woman who married a good Jewish man and had good Jewish kids. The marriage was almost arranged, though not officially, by her rabbi father. She did what she was supposed to, followed all of the rules, and…
Her husband left her with two young kids and never paid child support. Her kids blamed her and sided with the father most of their young lives, even though he rarely ever reached out to them.
Surprisingly, she’s not much of a complainer, more of a self-blamer. Should I have done this? Should I have done that?
I say it’s important not to shame your younger self for her decisions, partially because every time I see someone claiming their 20 year old self was just an idiot, they’re still making the same mistakes today, but it’s “different.” The other thing is, of course, you can’t do much about your past, and so it’s not like you’re going to solve it by hating yourself for it. You can learn from it, but it’s best not to grind the memories in there.
As for “learning” from it, I’ve come to find that anytime I think to myself, “That was a mistake! The next time I should do this!” The opportunity will come up again, I take an alternative path and realize how much that one could have gone just as wrong. In many cases, there are no right answers, and, I believe, if you made a sensible decision based on the information you had at the time, it wasn’t necessarily a mistake or failure. Mostly, I say that due to my anxiety and thinking that if I had all the answers prevents me from ever acting, and that prevents me from living life, so it’s actually pretty important for me to be fair to myself about results that didn’t go my way.
Despite not being remotely Jewish, or married, or even sure what marital expectations are on me in this day and age, I realized that her frustration on doing what she was supposed to was the same foundation to my morale.
I don’t count very many things as failures. Not getting into grad school was an understandable result of applying to highly competitive departments. My script wasn’t one of ten picked from 3,000? Doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Same goes for manuscripts to agents. I know how many they have to choose from, so it doesn’t mean that my work is terrible when it was ignored.
The times I do feel like a failure? It’s when I tried, really tried, and did everything I was supposed to—successfully did everything I was supposed to—and it still didn’t work. It’s when I realized the failings was due to uncontrollable forces. Luck, bad timing, other people. When it went so wrong no matter how much I really worked to make it succeed.
I was actually far more successful when I didn’t try that hard. I just threw things into the wind and saw what landed. I wasn’t as great as I wanted, not really respected or credible, not entirely in love with what I had created, but I got things done.
After spending nearly five years on this manuscript, it’s a little harder to keep going with other projects. I made it the best that it could be by myself, and if and when it doesn’t garner any traction, my morale is going to take a little bit of a hit. I intentionally told myself a year of submitting to agents because I don’t believe in putting all your eggs in one basket. I have other manuscripts, though not nearly as pristine, with better strengths in areas this one lacks. But they need work, and it’s almost like starting over from scratch again, only to know that all the effort you put into it might be for naught.
But perhaps it’s best not to over think it, over work it until the color’s sucked from it. I’ve done better with things that I put out because the deadline was up than anything I took my time with.
It’s not a bad idea to listen to advice or learn from the example of others, but just because you did what you’re “supposed to” does not mean that it’s going to turn out well in the end. I guess the best you can hope for is that you had fun doing it, then it won’t go to waste.
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