Several years ago, an editor returned a short piece of writing to me accompanied by a lengthy outline of its failures: the argument was all wrong, the examples poorly chosen, and the logic sloppy. The only thing I’d done right was turn it in. I had next to no idea if any of it had succeeded, so I asked the editor, and he told me just to move on and try again the next time. I didn’t even turn in the next assignment; I didn’t know where to begin.
How lame, you think, and I agreed. I just had no idea what my skills were, or if any existed at all, and the longer I thought about it, the angrier I got at myself for compounding the failure by not moving on. I lacked resilience, which we are warned is somehow both admirable and compulsory. I lacked sticktoitiveness, which is what all those other people seemed to have in abundance. I also lacked perspective, by the way, because, Jesus, it was just a blog post! I know this now and I knew it then, but boy did I hate myself for not knowing how to move on and succeed.
If the wise are giving out advice other than to keep your chin up and your head down and work, I have not heard it, which is why I read Lesley Alderman’s Times opinion piece on how to “conquer negative thinking” with joy and surprise. Of self-berating thoughts, Alderman writes:
Don’t try to stop them. If you are obsessing about a lost promotion at work or the results of the presidential election, whatever you do, don’t tell yourself, “I have to stop thinking about this.”
The trick, she writes, is to “accept” your negative thoughts because the tyranny of moving on can squash you. Alderman suggests giving yourself advice about your failures as you might a friend in your position, and if all else fails, asking “your best friend to write you a letter telling you all the ways in which you are a good, kind person. Reread the letter daily.”
If you are the type of person to whom this feels silly, then Alderman’s piece is probably not for you, and by all means, move on, and we can meet up at the next pass. But do remember that perhaps you have people in your universe who need an explicit reminder of their worth before they can summon all that great resilience you wish they had. And if you, like me, occasionally feel yourself burned by the heat of the world or baffled by its indifference, try to remember that you are a good, kind, person, but need not hate yourself for forgetting it sometimes.