Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Wasn't Putting Myself First (Or, Deconstructing Superman)

By Andrew E. Kaufman

This post isn’t going to be about crime fiction or even about publishing—not really, anyway. This post is about life. About being human, realizing we’re not perfect, that we can’t do it all.

Sometimes, I think, many of us forget that.

It’s easy to do. Life can often get in the way. I remember before I published my first novel, things seemed a lot less complicated. That’s not a complaint; it's an observation. Juggling my personal and professional life is more of a challenge now, and with that, it’s easy to get caught up in the swell of activity and forget what matters. It’s not unusual—it’s just life.

But sometimes too, if we’re lucky, we get reminders, warnings, even, to slow down and stop trying to be everything to everyone, because quite simply, we can’t.

It’s not like anyone was asking anything extraordinary of me. I was doing a good enough job of that myself, getting tangled-up in Life’s Rut. I wasn’t selling enough books, needed to write better ones, was worried about pleasing my readers, my family, my friends.

Pleasing everyone, that is, except for me.

“Yes” had become a staple in my vocabulary, and “no” a word I hardly recognized anymore. I wasn’t eating right, not working out, getting very little sleep. It’s a familiar theme in my life, a slippery slope I often unknowingly fall down. And usually, it takes a slap in the face to bring me back down to earth, make me realize that I am, in fact, not Superman, that I can’t do it all.

I got my wakeup call.

And then, a question: What the hell are you doing? I didn’t have an answer, didn’t even remember how I got here, and suddenly, felt kind of foolish and a little bit angry. I just wanted to be the successful author, the good son, the reliable friend. But at what cost? Compromising my health? Giving away a little of my self-esteem each time I said yes when I should have said no? Admittedly, I’m an overachiever, but sometimes—actually quite often—that means taking things too far and pushing my own needs toward the back of the line.

So I stopped everything. I slowed down, took a deep breath, and I looked around. I played with my dogs, took some walks, and sometimes I did absolutely nothing just because I felt like it. I also learned to say,I’m sorry but I’m just not able to do that right now,” to the people who matter to me; it wasn’t easy, but it was important.

Did my book sales suffer? Yeah, some. Did people get upset with me? Probably. Will my next novel take a little longer to finish? Maybe, but I also had the foresight to realize none of that matters—none of it—because I’m no good to anyone if I’m not happy, healthy, and whole. And here’s the hook, folks, something we all know: there are people who will be disappointed no matter what you do.

So my advice, if I can be so bold to give it: don’t get caught up in the small stuff, and try to catch yourself when you do. Put yourself at the front of the line when you need to, and don’t feel guilty about doing it. Look out the window and really see what’s out there, then enjoy the view. And smile.

Because, as Sir Max Beerbohm once said: Nobody ever died of laughter.


  1. Excellent advice, Drew. Common-sense lessons learned through personal experience and delivered from the heart - advice we all need to heed. Thanks for sharing a few hard-earned insights that will help us all stop and have a hard look at what really counts in our lives, then prioritize and learn to say no, too.

  2. Paddling along side you, Drew! Agreeing with Jodie (and Judith too, of course) - excellent advice. Isn't it too bad it takes those wake up calls to get us back on the right track. Then again, aren't we glad life gives them to us so we have another chance :)

  3. I'm reading THE ARTIST'S WAY right now, and one of the things Cameron teaches is how important it is that we learn how to fill the well again. Looks like you've figured it out, Drew.

  4. Oh, do I relate to all that! I'm so glad to hear you're taking time to enjoy your life. I've recently been through a similar process, and it's rather liberating. My new mantra is: Enjoy the moment. It's all we have.

    Be happy, Drew.

  5. Very interesting post! Most of us can do with a reminder now and then to take care of ourselves and that perfection is actually an unachievable goal. All we can do is be the best we can be in any given moment! Having said that, I must also admit I wrote about my struggle with perfectionism on my blog this week, too.

  6. Kyle Myer said....
    Paraphrasing Eckhart Tolle: "Everything that happened in the past, happened in the here & now. Everything that will happen in the future, will happen in the here & now." Thanks for reminding us of this wisdom by sharing your own experience.

  7. How I can identify with your comments, Drew. It is like a light bulb popping up in full brilliance when we come to the realization that it is not selfish to think of ourselves first. “Pleasing everyone, that is, except for me.” Too often we get caught in that trap, and I have always considered it may be easier for a woman—wife, mother—to be in that position as we’ve spent a number of years of our life in that roll of nurturer, of giving ourselves to others, especially family. I do find it interesting that as a man, you have faced those same challenges. Now, in my senior years, I really don’t have to answer to anyone except my kitty, Max. (and as you know, these critters can be demanding). Yes, I can still find myself giving in to the “demands” of others, or moving back into my earlier role I had in life. It can be emotionally draining, and of course, that, along with stress, (or even resentment) can affect our health and well-being. You are so right; we can’t do it all, and we owe it to ourselves to put our needs or desires first. (excuse me, my kitty, Max, just interrupted me—chewing on wires under the desk, little stinker). Okay, but the look in his eyes when I question what he was doing melted my heart as it always does, and I laughed. He does not drain my energy, but actually invigorates it. I know you understand, Drew, with all your lovable critters.

    “And here’s the hook, folks, something we all know: there are people who will be disappointed no matter what you do.” I first became aware of those words, Drew, when I was fifteen, when an older gentleman, obviously aware of my shyness and lack of self-confidence, told me that. I must say, even though his words are still with me all these years later, too often they have stayed hidden in the crevices of my mind and not in the forefront.

    Your advice is right on: “Put yourself at the front of the line when you need to, and don’t feel guilty about doing it. Look out the window and really see what’s out there, then enjoy the view. And smile.”

    And thanks for sharing, Drew. :-)

  8. I have to agree with everyone else. This is excellent advice, Drew. We can't be any good to others if we're not good to ourselves. And sometimes saying "No" or "Not right now", is best for everyone involved. I've agreed to do things in the past that I should not have agreed to. When we try to be all things to all people, it's not fair to the ones we say yes to, because in many cases, we can't give our best. And it's not fair to ourselves.
    Thanks so much for this. It came at the perfect time.

  9. I thank everyone for your comments, and I'm glad this post resinated with you. I was a bit hesitant about putting it up--mostly because I didn't want to sound preachy. I think the common thread that runs through the responses is that life is about achieving balance, and most of us struggle with that. But the key, I think, is to be good to ourselves during the process. For some reason, it seems our own well being is the first thing to go out the window when we're under stress--not sure why--when in reality, it should be the last. It's true--all we have is the present moment; there really is nothing else, and once it's gone, it's gone.

  10. Yes, it's good advice. That's easy to say. It's even harder to kick back and relax and feel justified in doing it.

    Thank heavens for your animals. Like children, they lure you away to play.

  11. Nothing like a wake up call to remind us not to take life too seriously. I'm right there with you. Definitely got to kick back a bit and have a laugh. Who cares if we take a little time off and make someone wait just a little bit longer once in a while? As I always say, everything worth having is worth the wait.

  12. Fantastic post, Drew! Thank you!

  13. I think in order for superman to fly straight he needs to be pretty balanced, right? You are doing all the right things, and that is why your audience will stay true to you no matter where you are in your own deconstructive process. Keep preaching...the choir needs to hear it too!


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