Failure Analysis

frame-541745_1280Whenever the New Year rolls around everyone gets caught up in the newness of a potentially fresh start. Many are busy fashioning resolutions or, the new trend, picking a word to focus on for the rest of the year. Commit. Encourage! Lose weight. Oh wait, that’s two words.

It’s known that New Year’s resolutions don’t last very long at all. People who go to the gym know this in spades. Come January, you have to stand in line until someone gives up a piece of cardio equipment. However, in just a few weeks, it will be like crickets chirping again and those aerobic instructors would be happy if crickets did show up to their classes so they’d have someone to teach.

I think in current American society, examining failure is passe. First of all, no one is a failure! Every child gets a trophy. Every child is equally good at everything. Authors are happy to post negative reviews on their Facebook page, not to say, “This person had something valid to say about my novel and I’m going to learn from it,” but rather as proof of how idiotic the reviewer was. Other authors gripe and complain when their book covers get nominated for “Worst Cover” awards. I don’t know. I’ve seen some of those covers and those just might be valid nominations.

Is this really learning? What is the value in learning from our mistakes?

I think we need to get back to not dismissing failure out of hand. My own reasons for failure are, if I’m honest, rarely external. They’re internal. I am the reason I failed.

Let me give one example everyone can attest to: weight loss. I’m not at my goal weight. I haven’t been for years. Why is that? I actually go to the gym regularly. Typically, three days a week. I don’t eat out often. Why am I not a size 4? Or, even a single digit size?

How many times have you heard these excuses? I’m too busy. It’s hormones. Gym memberships are too expensive. I’m big boned! It’s my thyroid. It’s genetic. Everyone in my family is overweight.

What are the real reasons? I’m lazy. I don’t want to cut refined sugar out of my diet. Soda is my one  bad habit (and therefore I should keep it). It’s been a long day–I deserve (insert sugary, decadent treat here).

The reason we’re falling short on all our good intentions is largely because we haven’t accepted the reasons we’ve failed at them in the past.

Why isn’t your book published? These days, there is no reason why you can’t get your words out there with indie publishing. You literally cannot have an excuse.

So what’s holding you back?

What I encourage you to do at the beginning of this year is look at that big dream you’ve been holding onto with everything in you and do an honest analysis of why you haven’t achieved it yet. I challenge you to first list five things that pertain to yourself.

So, if you’re brave, in the comments section share your unachieved dream and give a short failure analysis. How will you change these items to get closer to your dream by the end of 2015?

I think that will be better than picking a new resolution.

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Smokin’ Hot

fried eggsSometimes my day feels like a cracked egg, running all over the pan in a yellowy glob of goo. Time slides fast. Out of control. Joy skitters away in the wake of unmet expectations.

From this broken shell of a place, the Holy Spirit whispers in the midst of waning joy, “Rejoice in me, the one who breathes fresh life in you.”

“Are you kidding?”

Of course, he isn’t. I know the chapter and verse:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:4-5

His invitation rings warm. And in this hope-stirred moment, I unclench my fists, wondering, Is joy really a choice? By focusing on God’s truth, can I turn up the joy knob a notch? Watch this broken egg that’s staring back at me bubble up warm in its rawness?

I look up joy in Bible Gateway and find it singing and shouting everywhere, even in the broken places of defeat.

“Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” Isaiah 52:9

I’m not used to singing in the midst of chaos. It hasn’t quite become habit yet. But I know neuroscience shows it positively affects our brain chemistry. Healthy thoughts register deep in our dendrites.

I also know that it’s easier to sing when I know who I am: chosen, redeemed, clothed in God’s righteousness. The same spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in me. In me. This little writer who longs to make a big difference.

God-dreams tick louder than time bombs. Do you feel their press to keep moving forward? We have much to say, but sometimes we stare blankly at that empty egg pan.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Thank you, God, for the gift of words. Crack me open for you. Pour me out raw. I want to flow in your joy and hope and all things good.

When life turns up the heat, we wait with confidence in his presence: hopeful, grateful, and open to the fact we’ll soon feel that first bubble. And one bubble will lead to another and another. And before we know it, whoa–we’re cooking, Baby! Smokin’ hot for Jesus. All we need to do is stay open in God’s great pan. Let him stir up our gifts and see what happens.

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” Psalm 37:23

Ambition, Aspirations, and Obsession: Part Two

Last time I posted to the Water Cooler, I discussed some of the ways that having dreams and aspirations can affect you in a positive way.

CliffWSThis post I’d like to look at some possible dangers of having ambition.

Dangers of Aspirations:

1. Assuming it’s God’s will.

I’ve had authors so single focused, so full of energy and passion, that they interpret this to mean “It’s God’s will that I write for publication.” I’m not the end-all expert on God’s will, but I don’t believe it is simply feeling passionate about something. Yes, feeling passionate about a cause or a new adventure makes you feel alive, but so does war. The men from Band of Brothers who have written books say, “Never have I felt so alive as when I was in battle.” An activity may get your heart moving and leave you with an adrenaline high, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily God’s will.

2. Overly ambitious writers won’t always listen to counsel.

So many authors have come my way and said, “God told me to write this.” Or, “This will sell millions of copies because these are God’s words.” Too many to count. The danger in this approach is that writers begin to feel their manuscript is so divinely inspired that it would be almost a sin for an agent or editor to suggest changes to it.

Having aspirations without seeking and listening to wise counsel will often lead to a big waste of weeks, months, even years. So if you’re a writer, you must temper your aspirations with the reality of counsel. If everyone who isn’t a family member says your baby is ugly, it likely is.

The best writers are the ones who seek out critique groups, writing partners, and then when they strike gold (they finally get a professional writer or agent to look at their work) they listen. And when they hit the mother lode by finding a publisher, they should realize how much God can use these professional partners to make their work even better.

3. Overwhelm those not sharing the train you are on, going in your direction.

People with writing aspirations can be overwhelming in their single-mindedness. They feel they somehow need this to accomplish something of value. If you’re one who says, “I have to write. I cannot NOT write,” be careful of those around you. They don’t understand. (Unless they are writers, too!)

Aspirations that lead to the neglect of people you love most (for more than a few weeks when you’re on a deadline) are probably not from God. They are more likely from your own need to find significance in having published something with your name on it.

I became an agent because I was faced with a choice. I had written 15 books, had a big platform in youth ministry, and came to a crossroads: Do I write and speak and try to be more famous? Or do I stay involved in the process of books (which I loved) and be able to hang out with my own two young sons instead of other people’s kids? I made the right choice and never looked back.

If aspirations aren’t in balance with your family goals, then I’d question if they are God’s will for you.

To keep ambitions and aspirations from turning into obsessions, they need to be:

• Tempered with counsel, prayer, balance.
• Put up against the harvest of fruit.

If something you’re pursuing doesn’t seem to be yielding the desired results, then there is a good chance that this aspiration may be a stepping stone to a bigger aspiration God has in mind for you. I’ve discovered that most of our lives have a building block-like history to them that makes sense as you reach the middle or near the end of your story.

My biggest revelation on aspirations is that they must be tied to a soul, especially the souls of those you love.

Aspire to feed your family. Writing for money isn’t a bad thing. If publishers hadn’t paid C.S. Lewis to write Chronicles of Narnia, who knows if he would have written it.

Aspire to make a dent for God’s Kingdom. Great. We all want to live our lives for something that will outlast us.

But make sure your ambitions and aspirations are always tied closely to the souls of those whom God has put into your life. In other words, how is your calling to write also blessing those nearest to you?

What about you? What have you done to keep your aspirations from becoming an obsession?

Ambition, Aspirations, and Obsession: Part One

Are you in a season of fresh aspirations?

WomanCliffWSSeveral years ago I had aspirations. (Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say, they had me.) I was obsessed. I’d stay up late at night, sadly, on my computer, surfing…dead relatives. That’s right, I had an Ancestry.com obsession. I aspired to know everything about all of the branches of my family tree. Soon I had more than 4000 strangers (and a few hundred names I actually knew) attached to my electronic tree, many with pictures and whole histories about their life. Fun and time consuming, but now it’s done.

After 20 years as an agent, I’ve seen literally thousands who have writing aspirations. It starts with an ambition, “Gee, I think I could write a book.” They give it legs by feeding their aspiration, “Wow, I really need to write this book, so I’d better learn how to do it—and then spend weeks doing it.” But oftentimes a good desire to write turns into an obsession, “I have to get this book done and in print if it’s the last thing I do.”

And oftentimes they throw God in the mix as Supreme Instigator.

“I’m so excited about this manuscript, it must be God’s will that I become a famous novelist. Therefore, I will do everything possible to make this God-given dream come true.”

Ambitions and aspirations can certainly be clues to God’s will for us, though ambition alone is not enough to discern God’s calling. My own history of aspirations has had mixed results, with joys and dangers along the way.

The Joys of Aspirations:

1. They Bring Energy.

I’ve got some aspirations about a new project/business I’m working on that will help my authors and, hopefully, help the Kingdom for years to come. As my wife Becky would attest, it’s brought me more energy and motivation about work than she’s seen in a long time. I love being an agent, but with the changes happening in publishing, I’ve been restless. I’ve seen too many great books go unpublished because some publishers are concerned about the lack of social networking tribes in an author’s portfolio. I aspire to do something about that (more on that in a later post).

2. They Bring Focus.

The Apostle Paul had ambitions and aspirations. “…This one thing I do, forgetting what is in the past, I press ahead to the goal of the upward call…”. He wanted to live in the moment and not be hamstrung by his past: a helpful goal that brought focus to his day-to-day life. One of his other aspirations was “…to see Rome…”. He eventually did, and was able to preach the Gospel to likely hundreds.

3. They Bring Fruit.

Aspirations to write books gave me hope that perhaps my life could count for something; that my words on paper could outlive me. That’s what books do. They allow God to use our stories and life lessons in ways that bless others. And with digital books, our stories could live forever on Amazon and other platforms. Granted, they might be ranked at four million, but at least our books are there!

4. They Bring Passion.

About 20 years ago when I was writing as a hobby and working a day job, my routines were to get up at 5 a.m. and write for two hours before work. Then after the kids were in bed, I’d write for another hour or two. That’s what aspirations do; they give us so much passion that we’d rather not sleep.

Next time I’ll discuss some of the dangers of aspirations. What about you? How does having dreams and aspirations affect you in a positive way?

Surrender Your Dreams to God

 

I started writing towards the goal of publication eleven years ago. I attended writer’s groups, conferences, read books on craft, and did my best to educate myself on this business of being an author.

All of this was good, except God had called me to be a Christian writer. I forgot about the Christian side of things. Now my books had all the elements of an inspirational story, but I didn’t include God in my plans.

My prayers were, God please let this agent be the one. I want this so badly. Help me to win this contest or let this query be the one that opens doors.

After beating my head against the keyboard, I finally surrendered my writing to God. I asked Him to tell me if I should pursue writing for publication or if I should give it up. If I was to give it up, then I asked for His guidance toward the thing I was supposed to be doing for Him.

I finally trusted Him enough to give Him control of my life and my dreams.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

I was thrilled when He answered that I was to write for Him and to pursue publication. But if He’d answered differently, I was prepared to follow. And it wasn’t until I included Him in my dreams that He could begin to do things I’d never imagined and could have never done on my own.

So, no matter what your dream is, I urge you to give it to God. He will never break His promise, and His promise is good things for us.

Have you given your dreams to God? Has He answered your prayers differently than you expected?