What signs, situations, and people do you look to, to see if you’re doing the “right” thing? My experience says there’s a good chance you’re looking in the wrong places. You’re looking at the wrong things. And you’re listening to the wrong people.
You’re not doing it on purpose, of course. But that doesn’t make what you’re doing any less dangerous. And, if you don’t stop doing it, you might as well kiss your dreams goodbye.
* * *
The best way to help you understand what I’m talking
about here is to tell you a personal story…
It was 2001 and I’d just met Ingrid (now my wife and business partner) at a writers’ conference in Santa Barbara where I was speaking. Two weeks later I asked Ingrid to marry me and she said yes. We then made plans to drive Ingrid and all of her things cross-country… from Malibu, California (where Ingrid was living) to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (where I was living).
It’ll be a fun adventure.
Unfortunately, since Ingrid had lots of stuff at the time (furniture, artist equipment, art she’d produced, etc.), we had to rent the biggest U-Haul truck available (a 26-footer). To make matters worse, we had to add a flatbed trailer to the back of that monstrosity to tow her car as well.
After the truck was packed, we discovered that one of the men who’d helped us load the truck had packed the keys… in the truck. It was getting dark and there was no way we’d find the keys amidst all the boxes. So we called a locksmith and, several hours later, we were ready to leave and start our new life together.
We couldn’t get out
of the driveway.
The truck was too heavy and the driveway was too steep. I spent the next hour revving the engine, trying to get up the driveway, only to keep rolling back down to the bottom. At one point, the truck almost tipped over when I was backing up. That’s because the driveway was narrow, curved, and elevated above the ground in some spots, about 8-10 inches. However, I was determined, and I revved the truck one last time. The engine screamed and started smoking (one of the belts), but this time the truck crawled up and over the crest of the driveway.
Ingrid and I took a moment and breathed in a deep sigh of relief. We held hands for a moment, kissed, and looked at the spectacular scenery in front of us. We were on top of the world, literally. Even though it was dark out, the moon was bright so we could see the mountains and the ocean in front of us.
Shortly after we started descending the steep mountain road, I started getting comfortable. Driving a huge truck like that, with a car behind it on a trailer, isn’t exactly easy. Especially when you’re going downhill, at night, and there are warning signs everywhere because of the 8% incline. But we were young and invincible—or so I thought.
Approximately halfway down the steep, twisting road I noticed a reflection on the canyon wall to my left. At the same time I remarked to Ingrid that the brakes in the truck were getting soft. Then they stopped working completely.
They were on fire.
I slammed the brake pedal to the floor and pulled the emergency brake with all my strength. At the same time I had to keep the truck on the road. Swerve right and go over a cliff. Swerve left and slam into a rock wall. After what seemed like forever, I got the truck to stop and jumped out to put out the fire… using bottles of drinking water.
After we calmed down, we tried to call AAA so they could tow the truck to a mechanic and take us to a hotel. But there wasn’t any cell phone service. Stupid mountains. I had to lower the ramp to the trailer and remove the chains securing Ingrid’s car. All in the dark, of course. Then we drove down to a hotel and called AAA from there.
A day or two later, after the truck was fixed and we were driving down the highway, people kept waving at us. Weird. Finally, one persistent man started waving AND POINTING toward the back of our truck. I looked in the driver’s side mirror and realized that I’d left the back of the truck open after going in the back at the hotel to get some things.
Several hours later, driving Eastbound through the desert, it was so hot (and truck was so heavy) that we couldn’t go more than 30 miles per hour in some places. Steep inclines going through more mountains. Plus the temperature was over 110 degrees. We had to keep the air conditioner turned off to give the truck any chance at all of making it.
A couple days after that, the truck broke down a second time. And, of course, we were in the middle of nowhere again. Minutes from Mexico in a Podunk town called Van Horn. When the truck sputtered to a stop, I noticed that Ingrid didn’t seem okay. Earlier in the day we’d thought she was getting a cold, but now she was slurring her words and having trouble staying awake. I ran around to Ingrid’s side of the truck and saw that the right side her throat was red and swollen. With two little holes. Spider bite? I put my hand to her forehead. Fever.
I unchained the car from the flatbed again and looked for a cell signal. Need to find a hospital and call U-Haul. No service. No buildings. No nothing. I got Ingrid in the car and started driving. If I keep going on this highway, we have to run into a city with a hospital at some point.
When I finally got Ingrid to a hospital, the doctors admitted her and asked her to sit on a bed in the ER. As soon as she did, she lifted her hand and there was blood all over it. Where’s it coming from? I yelled for a nurse who examined the bed and told us they’d just operated on a trucker who’d been involved in a traffic accident. He was on that same bed not long ago, lost a lot of blood, and that blood pooled up in the cushion of the bed because there was a cut in the vinyl covering. I ripped the hospital staff a new one. How do you miss something like that? What if that trucker has AIDS? Or God knows what?
The doctors cleaned Ingrid up, gave her antibiotics, and told us that she might have been bitten by a brown recluse spider (extremely venomous). Great. Can anything else go wrong?
Before we left the hospital I called U-Haul and told them where our truck was, then Ingrid and I went to find a place to stay, back by where we’d left the truck. But Van Horn was like a ghost town. There were bullet holes in one the street signs. Seriously? It was like one of those movies where the reasonably well-to-do guy, gal, or couple ends takes a wrong turn and ends up on the wrong side of town.
This, felt like that.
I only let Ingrid leave our hotel twice while we were there. Once we went to a small market to get alcohol swabs, etc. so we could continue cleaning Ingrid’s infected neck. And another time to eat at a hotel bar/restaurant. Many of the people we saw in Van Horn (mostly men) looked like prison convicts. They ogled Ingrid like she was their prey, and they eyeballed me like I was a minor obstacle in their way.
Things can’t get any worse, right?
A day later, we got the call from U-Haul. They’d towed our truck to a garage and had it checked out. The good news was that they found the problem. The bad news was that the truck needed parts. It was summertime (peak season for moving). And there wasn’t a replacement truck available for us. We’d have to wait in our Wild West hotel for another week. And a few hours later I got the flu.
You’ve got to be freaking kidding me.
When we finally got our truck back (a week later), I told Ingrid that I wasn’t going to stop driving until we reached Florida. And I didn’t… even though it was 6 pm when we got our truck back… even though we’d been up all day and I was hopped up on flu medication. I drove 29 hours straight without stopping, except to eat and use the restroom. Reckless, I know. No one should drive that far without rest. But I was younger (and less mature) than I am now.
During that long stretch on the road, more things went wrong. We got lost several times. I had to “rally drive” at one point over really rough terrain (where there was no road) because I took a wrong turn in a place where I couldn’t back up or turn around. Two of the tie-down chains attaching Ingrid’s car to the trailer broke (probably due to the rally driving). The air conditioner stopped working completely. And we got stuck in a small gas station and needed help to get out (hey, you try driving a 26-foot truck with a car trailer on the back).
Now, here’s the point.
During our trip Ingrid and I talked a lot about all of our “bad luck.” So many things happened in such a short time that we began to doubt ourselves. All of those things had to be signs, right? Maybe we weren’t supposed to be going to Florida. Maybe we weren’t supposed to get married. Maybe we were star-crossed lovers, destined for despair.
We seriously considered it,
for a hundred miles
We thought of
two other possibilities.
Maybe everything that had happened was just a series of random events that had no meaning at all. In other words, maybe it wasn’t “God’s plan” or anything like that. Maybe it was just a collection of incredible coincidences.
Maybe it was a test.
Perhaps God or the Universe (or whatever name you want to use), “tests” us when we’re on the verge of doing something important. And it’s up to us to fight for what we want, and prove to ourselves (and the Universe), that we really want it.
Either way, isn’t that a more empowering
approach to looking at the challenges
that come your way each day?
Don’t get me wrong…
Looking outside yourself for wisdom, guidance, and direction is an admirable thing. I do it, too. But there’s a big difference between looking outside yourself in a smart way, and the alternative.
* * *
The Moral of the Story
Don’t fool yourself…
Weakness can often be found
pretending to be wisdom.
As a result, lots of people give away their power without realizing it. They think they’re being open, humble, and wise. But they’re really just being afraid and indecisive. They’re like rudderless boats in a raging sea, being blown to and fro by everything (and everyone) around them.
So, here’s my
question for you…
How often do you look outside yourself
for signs about what you should
or shouldn’t do?
Should I go this school or that school? Marry this person or that person? Take this job or that one? Write this book or that book? Try to get a literary agent or self-publish? Keep writing or stop writing? Give me a sign!!! Come on God, Universe, or whatever. If I’m supposed to do xyz, show me. Give me an indication that’s so clear, I’ll know exactly what to do.
The problem with that type of thinking is that you’re not supposed to do anything. Life doesn’t work that way. And that kind of “logic” will make you feel (and sound) like a crazy person. Of course I’m not saying you should ignore your conscience or break any laws. Just understand and acknowledge this simple truth: Whatever signs you look for, you’re going to find.
We see what we want
and expect to see.
During our trip, Ingrid and I chose to look at everything in our way as a test of our love and commitment to each other. And yes, we’ve had a lot more “tests” together over the last fourteen years we’ve been together. If we thought of all those things as signs, we would’ve gotten divorced years ago. Or we never would’ve gotten married in the first place.
What about you???
Do you know what
you really want, and why?
Do you have clarity and the
confidence of a lion?
Will you do what it takes to reach your goals
no matter what obstacles get in your way
just because you want to reach them?
Are you always looking outside of yourself for signs and validation? Do you often feel unsure about yourself and have anxiety about your decisions? And do other people often make you question who you are and what you’re doing? Maybe it’s your psychic, spiritual advisor, sister, friend, husband, etc.?
You might think you’re being smart by “seeking the wise counsel” of others. But those people (9 times out of 10) can’t help you. YOU are the one with the power to choose. You might not always want that power, but it’s yours.
So, decide right now to stop reading into things
that aren’t really there; and, instead,
start writing your own future.
Then post a comment
or question below.
And (if you haven’t already seen it)
check out this other article about
your book’s biological clock.
Getting publishing isn’t luck,
it’s a decision,