Listening to People Around You

As a people leader, I often teach the principle of active listening. It’s been my experience that most people don’t know how and aren’t even aware that this might be an area for growth. My observations have led me to conclude that there are three, broad categories of people who don’t practice active listening. (As with any categorization, you run the risk of stereotyping or being reductionist; the categories are meant as general guidelines and not as labels or triggers.)

The first is what I call “the promoter.” They are so focused on their own world and their own problems that they’re already thinking about the next thing they’re going to say while you’re still conveying information. What you say doesn’t really matter; the only thing that matters is what they are trying to say. In the work environment, they step on others ideas and block the healthy exchange of ideas. In a personal sphere, they are the ones that always have a cooler, better story than the one someone just told. Or, failing that, they will change the subject to something that interests them or showcases their talents.

The second category is “the busy bee.”  Everyone knows this person. They are too busy to help; too busy for family; too busy for loved ones. They run around in a constant state of stress and disorganization. No one can have an emergency except for them, and if someone tries to intervene or calm them down, they are met with sarcasm, mockery, anger, or withdrawal. In the business, these people make others feel guilty for not contributing, or they make others feel inadequate because they can never measure up to the busy bee’s standards. On the personal side, these people leave neglected friends, family, and loved ones behind as they seek to feel useful through constant activity.

The last category is “the teenager.” People in this category are too cool to listen; they may think they know it all, or they may feign disinterest because they think it helps them maintain control. Another way people in this category manifest their behavior is through the criticism of solutions and situations without offering any alternatives (a typical teen-aged indulgence). Their attitudes are immature at best and divisive at the worst. In the business, you will see people in this category slouch during meetings and exhibit closed body language. They’ll cross arms, frown, and stare off into space. If you’re not running a meeting with ground rules, they may stare at their phone or whisper to their neighbors. Outside of work, this personality comes across as sullen, entitled, or unwilling to accept criticism.

One of the benefits of active listening is that people tell you exactly who they are with their actions. Once you learn to really listen to the words, you can also start to really listen to actions. You can begin to compare them to the way people act. Where are the inconsistencies? Why do the inconsistencies exist? The gap between word and action is framed by intent. This is where people tell you who they really are.

Do you have a subordinate who comes across as angry and frustrated, but who also shows up early, stays late, and never misses a deadline? What does that tell you about their true self? Do you have someone in your life who professes love and commitment, and yet buries themselves in work and other people? What does that tell you about what they’re really committed to?

Actions speak much louder than words, but it’s rare for people to listen to either. By examining closely not just the things someone says, but also their actions, you can begin to form a picture of what they find valuable in their lives. Understanding that gives you insight into their personality. From a professional standpoint, this allows you as a people leader to put people in places that fulfill them and provide opportunities for success. On a personal level, it allows you to honestly look at the relationships in your life and determine (by someone’s actions) what they think and feel.

The AHCA

https://www.axios.com/inside-the-trumpcare-meltdown-2329417…

I’m not sure of the source(s) here, having never heard of “Axios” before, but the pedigree is sound (former Chief White House Correspondent for Politico).

WHO THE EFFING EFF DOES BANNON THINK HE IS?

This isn’t a dictatorship, and thank GOD even a few of the members of our Republican delegations in the Senate and the House somewhat listened.

Let me be real here. An end result of Obamacare is that my father lost his retirement insurance with AT&T, so no, he did not, in fact, get to keep his plan. He has chronic health issues, and his health care costs have gone up by a third in absolute dollars (did not adjust for inflation). That’s a strike against. But you know what? He still has good coverage. Sure, it’s a more expensive proposition, and sure it doesn’t honor his years of service and sacrifice to a corporation that couldn’t give two shits about him, but he’s here, and he’s going to continue to be here.

On the other side of the debate, my best friend Kevin Sipe recently battled colon cancer (twice). The first time, without insurance. In my opinion (and Kevin might argue with me), he got shoddy treatment that did not adequately address his needs. The second time, Kevin received much more thorough and comprehensive care with coverage from Obamacare. The result? He’s in remission and still around to bust my ass. Without Obamacare? I might not have a best friend.

My partner Kate Baker, who works for a small non-profit, would not have affordable health care without Obamacare. She’s a hardworking, single mom–a tax payer and a contributor to this country not just from a fiscal standpoint, but from an artistic and personal one as well. I obviously have a personal stake in this, but the thought of her not having affordable health care is scary at best.

Would I sacrifice my best friend and the well-being of my partner for a little extra money in my pocket? If I broaden the scope, would I deny access to health care for millions of Americans that really don’t have another option?

I used to think that government should not be in the business of providing social safety nets, that being the responsibility of the individual. It’s hard for me to shake this view, but when I think of all the stories of people who owe their health (or even their lives) to this broken, propped up system we currently have, I wonder what we could do if we all worked together in good faith to serve the people of this country.

We don’t need half-assed repeal. We need reform. That’s the challenge I laid at Michael Burgess, the representative for my district.

For a full rundown of the Republican opposition, see this link:

http://stateofreform.com/featured/2017/…/happened-ahca-vote/

Let’s Dive Right In, Shall We?

I participated in #PitMad today and ended up with a hit on this tweet. I have mixed emotions about this.

I also had a hit for a different novel last year that resulted in some solid critique from an agent. While he ended up not representing me, it was a sign that I was close to breaking into the business.

That’s been my story for a long time. I got in to Viable Paradise, but couldn’t convert my time and learning there into sales. I get requests for partials (and even full manuscripts), but I can’t quite close the deal. I send out short stories (which are, admittedly, not my favorite thing, nor are they something I’m comfortable writing), and rarely get anything beyond a form rejection.

I did manage to win the Boskone/NESFA short story contest a couple of years ago, but alas, that story has also remained unsold. I compared notes with a couple of other people and realized that while my rejection count (mostly agents and novel queries, but also a good selection of short story submissions) is approaching 200, I should keep submitting, because I’m nowhere near the upper ceiling of most professional writers.

I’ve long been a perfectionist; I’ve long been prone to anxiety. In terms of personality, I am a functional extrovert (meaning I can be extroverted if I believe the situation requires it), but I mostly prefer intimate settings with trusted friends and family. When I create art, it is informed by not just my imagination, but by an out-pouring of my feelings/emotions. Some of it is experiential–my struggles in life, the emotions I deal with on a daily basis. Combine these personality traits together with a yearning for expression and you have a recipe for someone who takes rejection poorly.

Here’s the thought I can’t escape: rejection of my writing is a rejection of everything that is me. Oh, I’ve heard the arguments. It’s not personal; there’s thousands of slush submissions; I should read slush so that I see how much better my submission is than the normal stuff. There’s a rational counterpoint to every specific thing that I feel about rejection, but therein lies the problem.

I am unable to bridge the gap between rational evaluation and emotional investiture.

But even if we consider the rational aspects of it, I still feel like I come up short. Look, I’m a lucky guy–white, straight, upper middle class. I’m post-college educated with a senior position in a global company. In academic, athletic, and professional endeavors, it is rare for me to experience failure. Most of the time, I can apply discipline and sweat and get exactly what I want.

What I can’t wrap my head around is that years of effort and investment in the craft of writing has yet to result in success. It’s not strictly entitlement (although I have to be honest and say that I, at one time, felt that way); it’s more of the idea that I’ve put in the work, the time, and the resources necessary to accomplish a goal and I’ve yet to accomplish it.

It’s not that anyone owes me anything. Please don’t mistake my argument. It’s the old American dream idea–work hard, achieve your dreams. Believe in yourself. Luck comes to those who are well prepared. (Add any other cliché you’d like.)

When you’re listening to your pillow pound in your ear at 1:30 AM after your most recent rejection, it’s easy to say that you’re not good enough. The voices of anyone and everyone who’s ever said anything disparaging about you, your craft, or your work ethic become loudest. Do this frequently, and you believe it. And if you’re already prone to anxiety and depression, and you’re already saying that about yourself in other areas of your life, you start to build a false and very cohesive narrative. Rather than using rejection as a means to improve and grow and change, you use it as an excuse to remain stagnant and stubborn.

The results are heart-breaking. You snarl at people you love when they experience successes with their art, or when they try to tell you that “you’re good, keep trying” or “you’re so close, you can’t give up now.” You compare yourself to others and find fault with their work. You work with a chip on yoru shoulder, and it comes across in everything related to your craft.

Truthfully? I’ve done more damage to myself and my partnership with Kate through my own self-loathing and bitterness than I ever could have done with intentional insult(s).

Maybe what I needed was to have a different way to face a horrible truth:  as a creator who is submitting art to a curated market, maybe Pete isn’t good enough. Maybe all my hard work hasn’t paid off. Maybe I haven’t learned what I needed to learn. That realization isn’t negative–it’s an opportunity to change for the better. To adapt. To grow.

A common criticism I get on my writing is that while I am technically and mechanically near-perfect, I miss on emotional depth. I produce super-clean manuscripts. I plot well. I plan well. My world-building is inventive and fully realized. But do you know what I lack? Connection. Intimacy. Tiny character details that make someone live and breathe. Sometimes I’ll get these right by accident, but it’s never consistent.

Why? There’s a lot of reasons, but I think the most profound reason is fear. I fear rejection. I’m already putting myself out there, and if I take that extra step to make my writing just that much more authentic and impactful, I’m more vulnerable. Fuck vulnerability, right?

Wrong.

So what does this continually tell me? What can I no longer deny, as comfortable as it is to remain bitter and jealous and afraid?

I have a choice. Continue as I have been or do something different?

I’m going all in on the idea of new beginnings in 2o17. For too long, I’ve let fear be the dominant voice in my head. Fear of rejection. Fear of feeling/looking foolish. Fear of the future. Fear of FAILURE.

No more.

I can offer myself some hard-won epiphanies. I know they’re true. People in my inner circle have told me these things over and over, but I’ve had to learn them for myself to really grok what they mean. (That Kate has been so patient with me in this process is a fucking miracle that I don’t deserve.)

  1. Bitterness, jealousy, and resentment are just excuses for not reaching your full potential.
  2. Art is art. (Reflexive property of algebra, right?) If you are driven to the act of creation, that is an end in and of itself. If you require the accolades of others to vindicate your art, then maybe you’re doing it wrong. (Full disclosure: I’m doing it wrong. At least I recognize that, now.)
  3. You are not your story, your poem, your essay, your painting. They all have identity independent of your sense of self. They do. (I’ll keep reminding myself of this.)
  4. Anxiety and depression make creation an order of magnitude more difficult, but the end result can be more impactful and relevant than you ever thought possible…if you allow it.
  5. The success of others does not preclude your own success. If everyone on the planet produced something creatively, it doesn’t mean that no artist is successful or able to be heard–it just means that Earth would be a fucking dynamite place to live.

So do me a favor. Create something. Invest in it. Dare to be vulnerable. See what you actually have to say if you can let your guard down.

New Beginnings

Yeah, about that.

I just updated the site and blasted all of the posts of the past. Some of them weren’t relevant to the here and now (my stance on some things has changed in the face of new info/arguments). While it was entertaining to go back through and read how my thinking on things has changed over the years, I’m left with the idea that I wanted a fresh start.

In a lot of ways, 2017 is a year of rebirth for me. I’m coming to terms with who and what I am as a person–authentically and without artifice. I’ve spent years pretending to be something I’m not. I’ve worn masks, I’ve lied to myself and others.  I’d like to say it stops now, and that I’m drawing a line in the sand. The reality is that this is a process that takes time and effort and discipline. The line in the sand is definitely there, but my goal is for continued, measurable progress and not perfection. I refuse to hold myself to unrealistic standards, but I also refuse to tolerate any excuses from myself.

What that means for me is that I’m looking ahead to the future and working on my personal issues of anxiety, depression, and perfectionism. I’m trying to shake off the bindings of the past–not because I want to forget how they’ve helped me grow and develop. I want to put aside the bad habits and poor decisions of old and make life-affirming choices for the people I love and for myself.

You might see me write about these from time to time here. If so, please know that there are other people who struggle with the same issues you do. You are not alone, even though you probably feel like it.

So…here’s to new beginnings.