Talk Less, Write More

Recently, I attended a dinner party where the host regaled his guests with stories of his successes, stories that were entertaining and engaging, even impressive–at first. But, after about twenty minutes, I realized that every other word out of his mouth was “I” and the only words anyone else got to say was “oh, really? hmmm….”. Honestly? It was #teamtoomuch. Eventually, I drifted…found something more important to do–anything was more important than this!

Unfortunately, though, this is not a rare occurrence. I often have to retreat to a quiet corner to escape this rising epidemic. There seems to be an increasing number of people with an apparently insatiable need to talk–about themselves!

While their conversation may cover many topics, one way or another they find a way to turn everyone’s attention back to one person:

“I’m not bragging” she says just before launching into a long litany of her achievements.

“I’m an amazing writer,” he says, jumping head first into a detailed description of his process and procedure. (By the way, truly “amazing writers” never say this.)

“Some wonder how I project such a calm and cool demeanor when I stand up to speak,” she says sailing seamlessly into a sermon on style.

It’s unbelievable! Mind-numbing and pervasive– heavily promoted in our “selfie”-centered culture.

Certain people simply enjoy the sound of their own voice, whether or not they have something of substance to say, and they seem to think that their audience will enjoy the sound of their voice in spite of the dearth.

Why? A wise person I know has said that the excessive focus on self is actually a cry for help. Perhaps there is actually something lacking that the person is attempting to mask with his overly boisterous bragging. What could it be?

If you like to talk about yourself all the time, what is it that you lack and how can we–your audience–help you?

Aaron Burr, Sir

One of my favorite lines from my FAVORITE stage play, Hamilton, is from Aaron Burr (not my favorite character, but nonetheless) to the young Hamilton. He says, “Can I offer you some free advice? Talk less, smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.”

Of course, Burr is a scoundrel but, although his advice is off base, there is a nugget of truth buried there. Hamilton and Burr were two sides of the same coin. Both orphans, both ambitious, and both on an upward trajectory. The difference between them is what made all the difference in how their stories ended. A crucial lesson for Hamilton was knowing when to speak and when to keep silent. A crucial lesson for Burr was knowing when to speak up for his beliefs.

What distinguished Hamilton, though, was his ability to write! He did not necessarily talk less, as Burr advised, but he did write more and, unlike Burr, Hamilton spoke up for what he believed, writing his way from obscurity right into our history books!

So, the lesson is this: Burr was right about one thing, people who are truly noteworthy don’t have to tell their audience how great they are. Their success speaks for itself. What we know about Alexander Hamilton we’ve learned from his writings and what was written about him.

So, maybe you have something important to say. Maybe you aspire to be great and happen to enjoy the sound of your own voice–can I offer you some free advice? Talk less. Write more.

Before launching into a diatribe with an unwitting audience, put it down on paper. Work it out in a journal, start a blog! Writing is a powerful tool for processing thought, expressing ideas and creating knowledge.

You never know, something you write could end up in a history book. Maybe someday we’ll be watching a stage play about your life! It could happen. Just let someone else tell your story. Then, not only will your words have a lasting impact, they will probably be more interesting too!

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

FIRST MONDAY: Do What You Can!

Last night I had dinner with a woman whose 9-year-old niece has a best-seller on Amazon!

As I listened in polite amazement I was thinking back over the past 20 years
of my own life and wondering where did I go wrong? 

·      How many TV shows did I watch instead of sitting
down to write?

·      How many dishes did I wash instead of sitting down
to write?

·      How many papers did I grade instead of sitting
down to write?

·      How many days did I spend doubting instead of sitting
and writing?

What did this little girl figure out in her few short years that I haven’t yet in my long life?

And here I am at the end of another year with an unfinished manuscript on my night stand. What is wrong with me if a 9-year-old can write a best-seller and I can’t even finish a manuscript?

It’s easy to get discouraged, isn’t it?

I work with students all the time who start out strong, then get lost somewhere
along the way.  The first few weeks of the semester they’re smiling and engaged. They tell me they made straight A’s in high school and plan to be doctors, lawyers or computer engineers. They sit in the front row and turn in their assignments on time, but then just before the mid-term their attendance gets a little sketchy. They become less engaged in class discussions and start turning in late work! By the time the semester skids to a close the A student is clinging to a C and bargaining for bonus points.  While their appearance on the first day was clean-cut, by the last day they’re wearing tattered sweats
and sunglasses to hide the dark circles–too many sleepless nights—maybe spent studying not partying—it just depends if the A student is still striving or if she’s given up.

I get it.  There are a thousand and one reasons why that thing you were hoping to accomplish didn’t pan out—it turned out to be harder than you thought, required a bit more time and effort than you anticipated. Now you have to regroup and decide whether you want to invest that much of yourself to get it.

How bad do you want it?

Sometimes unforeseen circumstances derail you, take you off course and the thing you’re going for gets pushed farther from your reach. Now you have to wait. But the same question applies: 

 How bad do you want it?

If the goal that we’re after is worth having, there shouldn’t be anything strong enough to keep us from attaining it.  Here we are at the end of another year, but this is not the time to wallow.  This is the time to do what you can

If you’re a college student, recognize that this is not high school. There are different expectations, different study habits, different responsibilities. You may have to re-group and try again, but do what you can.

If you’re an adult pursuing a dream, recognize that failure is not the end. There are many pathways to success and myriad ways to accomplish your goals. Fear less. Trust more, but do what you can.

It’s amazing that a 9-year-old could write a bestselling book, but you know how she did it?  By following directions for a class assignment.  She began by simply doing what she could and she did her best. I believe if I just did what I could there’d be room enough for her talent and mine on Amazon’s best seller list. 

I won’t stop pushing. What about you?

Phillipians 4:13

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Mayhem Monday: Get Back in the Game!

I slump onto the step out of breath, sweat drips off of my chin. My heart pounds like a bass drum.

“You okay?” It’s a familiar question.

“I’m fine,” my usual reply. I just need a minute.

A pause.

A few seconds to catch my breath then I’ll begin again. I’m not much of a long distance runner. You won’t see any selfies of me on social media from the Boston marathon. But I do believe in the hard push, even if it’s short bursts. I recognize the health benefits of interval training which involves high level intense activity for short periods of time followed by short recovery periods. This kind of exercise works for me. I get bored with doing one type of exercise for an extended time, so I like knowing that in 5 or 10 minutes I’ll get to do something else.  It’s also motivating to know that even if this exercise that I’m doing right now is difficult, I only have to endure it for a little while, then I’ll get to rest or switch to something else.

As I consider this rhythm with my exercise routine, I can see how this also works with other aspects of my life and work.

There are times when every day is a push. I’m running from one thing to the next, hardly able to catch my breath, and I feel as though my heart is going to jump out of my chest from all the stress!  But then there’s that blessed rest at the end of the week, when I can collapse on the sofa and do absolutely nothing for hours. Hallelujah!

The problem comes when I pause too long. The rest has to be long enough for me to recover from the work, but not for my muscles to get cold. Although the weekend rest is relaxing, if I sleep too long on Sunday, it will be that much harder to move on Monday.

If I’m being honest, I’d have to say this Monday blog has suffered because I’ve overslept.

I use that term ironically, because I’ve hardly been asleep, though.  It’s just that this creative work has been pushed to the side by the day-to-day grind. So much so that every time I’ve come to the writer’s desk I’ve stared at a blank computer screen that merely stared back at me! Sometimes there are no words even when the words are there. They float around, but refuse to settle down. There’s so much to say, yet nothing to be said. I’m stumped by second-guesses, muted by mobs of doubt and distracted by distant deadlines. So, it has been easier to let the Mondays go by.

A pause? A few seconds to catch my breath?

That’s what I tell myself. I need to re-group. Think about what I’m doing, and what’s my plan moving forward? But, long breaks are detrimental to progress. If the creative muscles aren’t exercised they will weaken.  The difficulty I’m having now won’t last, but neither can I avoid the difficulty too long. 

I know this as I claw my way back to the writing desk! My head is still as empty as it was a week ago, my fingers still crooked on these keys, but I can’t quit! Creative work is work–it’s not easy. But nothing that is worth having ever is. If I am ever going to perfect this craft I must continue to work at it, and the only way to work at it is to work it. It’s like exercise. You don’t do it ‘cause you feel like it, you do it until you feel like it, and once you feel like it, you’ll keep doing it!

After a moment or two, I wipe the sweat with my sleeve as I begin another round. Rest time is over. Time to get back to work!

Cover photo by Jacob Postuma on Unsplash