Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Serenity Check In: Are Your Clients Your Higher Power?

I write a lot about relying on a Higher Power as a way out of the insanity of focusing on things you can't control. But what happens when you make your clients your Higher Power?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because I'm working on a story proposal that's really important to me and I have an equally important client interested in the story. As I was working up the proposal, talking to folks, I noticed how ravaged I was by the process: Every time a source said something that backed up my premise, I was elated and excited and deeply convinced that doing this story is my Higher Power's will for me. It felt great to be in that groove. But every time someone said something that contradicted my premise, my self-esteem took a nose-dive and my anxiety level went up five octaves.

What was consistent about both responses was that I couldn't work on anything else the rest of the day. I was emotionally drained by it and in the back of my mind constantly wondering what the potential client might say about each of my sources.

Here's what I know is true:

* I can't read my client's mind, no matter how hard I squeeze my eyes shut and concentrate. I haven't yet developed the skill of clarevoyance.

* I didn't know exactly what she was looking for. She simply asked me to gather information, to report. And it's not my job to manipulate the results into whatever I think the "right" answer will be for me to sell the story.

* This is a great, important story. It just is. And if it's not right for this publication, it's not a judgment of me or the story.

What I realized in looking at all these things is that my spiritual life was askew. Instead of thanking my Higher Power for being my muse and guiding me to this story, I was making this editor my Higher Power. Her opinion was more important than anything else, and upon it all my sense of worth was resting.

She doesn't need that responsibility. And it's not very professional. It reminds me of Liz Strauss's great blog post about what she was looking for in a freelancer. The line that stuck out for me was:

Most freelancers I met with were too worried about my approval. The ones I looked for were the once who looked past me to the folks I was working to serve with my publications. That meant they were helping me think through the needs of my audience.

In other words, I can talk as much as I want about how much it's about the story, but what I'm doing when I'm trying to force a solution and making my client my Higher Power is making it about me. I share this not because I'm a glutton for punishment, but because most of us at some point have made our clients into our Higher Powers by wanting their approval instead of wanting to write a story that serves our client's readership. This is a spiritual malady with a real business consequence.

So for the sake of my business and my serenity, I did a lot of work to realign my spiritual life. Every morning, I've been writing the following. I share it with you in the hopes that it may help you realign your thinking, too, if you're in a similar fix:

* I really want to write this story, and I want to write it for this publication.

* I can really really want something and still hand the results over to my Higher Power.

* I trust that my Higher Power will guide me to the right home for this story and hold me up no matter what.

It's helped tremendously. I keep thinking of that line in Eat Pray Love in which Elizabeth Gilbert writes that "God loves you as you." I don't have to be serene and surrendered and needless or wantless to align my will with my Higher Power's. My Higher Power wants me just as I am--passionate about my work, slightly neurotic, excited about this client and really really focused on trying to make it happen, even though I can't. Oddly, that realization lends me freedom, to want all I want, and know that my wanting doesn't require a response. It can just be what it is.

And then, I can get back to work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post, Heather! We must remember, being rejected puts us in good company. Allow me to share some of my favorites.

George Orwell got this rejection for Animal Farm: "It's impossible to sell animal stories in the US."

A publisher rejected The Diary of Anne Frank thus: "The girl doesn't, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling that would lift that book above curiosity level."