Happiness, Middle School, and Seeing Red

I’ve been thinking about happiness a lot lately. Maybe because I now have two children in middle school. Do you remember middle school? If not, here’s a refresher: It’s that hellish time of life where your body betrays you in a myriad of ways from constant hormonal fluctuation to growth spurts that make you wake up one morning with one arm suddenly longer than the other. Once stable friendships are now confusing and unsteady and you’re not quite sure where (if anywhere) you fit. It’s horrible. HORRIBLE.

But I don’t tell my kids that.  Focusing on the negative isn’t the best way to find happiness and even though they’re going through a difficult time of life, I try very hard to talk to them about all of the things that are going well—we talk about the books they’re reading and how exciting it is to be able to read meatier things and be smart enough to discuss them. We talk about how all of those years of fumbling through music practice are paying off and now they can play things that people actually want to hear. We talk about how middle school was something they thought they couldn’t do and look! They’re doing it! Right now.

Of course, we also have a lot of discussions about worries and fears and friendships and hanging in there because life really does get better. But as much as I can, I try to keep them focused on the things that are working.

Years ago, when my oldest son was in a karate class, the instructor did an experiment. He gave the kids thirty seconds to look around the room and try to memorize everything that was red—and there was a lot of it—red punching bags, red training mats, red blockers, red belts. Then he had them close their eyes and name everything in the room that was—all the kids’ hands shot up—blue. Every hand fell.

Even though there was just as much (if not more) blue in the room than red, the kids had been focused on the red and so that’s what they remembered. Sure, they could tick off a few blue items from memory, but not many. It was a powerful lesson. We see what we’re looking for. We remember what we focus on.

It’s true in middle school and it’s true in publishing too. So how do we find happiness in a world that (like middle school) is full of rejection and disappointment and jealously? We focus on the good—and there’s lots of it! Far more good than bad. Here are some things that have worked well for me.


Celebrate the success of others


Be happy when other writers do well, whether they land an agent or get a book deal or rocket to bestseller-dom. Avoid the temptation to believe that other people’s success is your failure. It’s not. I don’t know about you, but when I finish a really great book, I don’t close it and think, well, that was so good I don’t think I ever need to read another book again. I’m all set now. No! I’m hungry for more. A rising tide lifts all ships and good books sell more good books. Other writers’ success is your success too. Celebrate it!


Take joy in the things you control


In this business, the only thing you control is the work. That’s it. Every published author I’ve ever talked to says there’s a fair amount of luck and timing that go into a book deal. You can’t control that part. But you can write the best book you are capable of writing and you can enjoy every moment of it.


 Get a support system


Surround yourself with people that are supportive of your writing career. If your family is supportive, that’s a huge blessing. In my experience, some family members will show up with pompoms and some family members won’t show up at all. Either way, I recommend making writer friends. They will understand what you’re going through in a way no one else can. Join a writer’s group, join Twitter, enter contests, not only with the hope of winning, but for the chance to make connections. One of the best things that ever happened to me (writing-wise) was being invited to join a Facebook group for writers. We’ve encouraged each other, shared experiences, asked questions and watched several members get published and get agents. Their support has been invaluable.


Writing is filled with roadblocks and setbacks, but it’s also filled with exhilarating vistas and take-your-breath away moments. And today, I’m going to focus on the blue.

Posted in Life, Parenting, Writing

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