≡ Menu

Fearless Protagonist

hobbitcover

One of the first things young writers learn is the necessity of the Inciting Action.

Getting the plot moving, putting pressure on the characters, establishing a time limit, creating a conflict: it’s the job of the inciting action to get all these things moving.

When someone is reading the story, the inciting action usually doesn’t seem like much. If you’re a good writer, the reader may not even notice it, but they WILL notice it eventually.

For example:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…”

So begins the beloved children’s tale The Hobbit by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.

(So I know his full name. Sue me…)

(Also, isn’t Reuel a TERRIBLE name? Poor little John Ronald. It’s probably Welsh or something.)

However, this opening line is not the inciting action. If nothing had come along to change his mind and his view of the world, Bilbo would have kept on living in his comfortable little hobbit hole for the rest of his life, and who could blame him? He would have lived a nice, quiet life in the beautiful Shire, and all would be just dandy.

But –

He wouldn’t have ever gone on an adventure, or made amazing friends with the dwarves, or seen mountains, or learned that he had more courage than he ever dreamed of, or become pen pals with a 10,000 year old ELF.

Now THAT’S a story!

So what happened in the middle? How did a stubborn, little hobbit go from being comfortable in his hole to sleeping in caves and killing goblins?

Change came in the form of a wizard named Gandalf the Grey.

See Gandalf needed Bilbo’s help. He knew that hobbits were very skilled burglars when they wanted to be, and Gandalf also knew that Bilbo had a bit of spitfire and adventure in him, if only someone were to bring it out.

So what did he do?

He incited the action of Bilbo’s story by approaching him on a very ordinary morning and asking him to come adventuring.

That was it.

So calm, so simple, so ordinary.

And yet so extraordinary!

Of course, things get more interesting when thirteen dwarves show up at his house uninvited, eat all his food, and tell him about gold and dragon-slaying; but the real spark that starts the flame of plot in Bilbo’s story is his conversation with Gandalf because it opens up a world of possibility and action that could never have existed before.

So what does this have to do with you?

Well, here’s the deal:

We’ve been talking for so long about being the protagonist of your own story, but in order to have a story at all there has to be something that kickstarts the plot.

Something has to change about your life – how you view the world, where you live, what you do, how you dress. It can even be something so simple as walking home from work instead of driving.

Whatever it is, heroes take action. They move the plot forward, not because of fate or destiny or some rubbish like that, but because of their choices. 

Great stories don’t just happen from living safe, comfortable, repetitious, ordinary lives.

A comfortable hobbit hole does not a good story make. 

Now, in Bilbo’s story, he had someone else who was kind and wise enough to get him up out of his chair and drag him out the door, but not all of us are so lucky. Most people have to find an inciting action for themselves.

Again, it doesn’t have to be anything insane. Often the craziest conclusions come from the tiniest of changes and the smallest of choices.

All Bilbo had to do was say “Good Morning” to a wizard, and his life was changed forever.

What will your inciting action be?

 

0 comments
twelfthnight

I do realize that the title is cheesy and overdone – and from the wrong play – but I just couldn’t resist.

In case you recognized the name but weren’t sure which play she comes from, or if you thought I was talking about a musical instrument and not a literary character, allow me to catch you up a bit.

Viola is one of the lead characters from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. She survives a shipwreck and washes ashore on a strange land, and, in order to protect herself and find employment, she disguises herself as a boy. She ends up working in the king’s court and then promptly falls in love with the king, which is complicated because he thinks she’s a dude. Then, of course, confusion and hilarity ensue.

(If you want a spark notes version of the story, watch She’s the Man with Amanda Bynes.)

Viola can often become a bit of a modern hero because, even in the middle ages, she was already breaking and questioning female gender roles. So in this post I want to ask the question:

Should we really see Viola as a role model? Should we follow in her footsteps?

How much of yourself should you change in order to get a job?

I’ll present to you some pros and cons of her behavior, and then I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Positive: Viola is resourceful and can think on her feet.

She used the limited resources available to her in order to take her success into her own hands. In an uncertain and possibly hostile environment, she is able to take control of herself and her own safety by disguising herself as a man. And in a situation that seemed to have no options, she quickly creates one that looks promising and follows it.

Negative: She changes herself to get a job – any job.

Now, in her era, there probably weren’t many respectable positions for women, but there may have been a few. A change of gender MAY not have been necessary. Instead, she sacrificed her identity and skills and passions in order to score the gig. This is fine and helpful for a time, but soon she gets tired of pretending, and her old self starts to peek through. Living a lie can be exhausting, and the job you get from it may not be as fulfilling as you’d hoped. Would she have met Orsino if she had remained a woman? Perhaps. We’ll never know because she didn’t try.

Positive: She adapts well to any kind of circumstance.

She didn’t give up when she found herself stranded in a foreign place. Instead of wallowing in self pity and wishing things were different, she chops off her hair, puts on some pants, and goes looking for work for the most powerful man in town. She is willing to pick up new skills in order to be successful in her new job, and, despite her noble birth, she is not too proud to work hard wherever she is.

Negative: She can’t play the role that she actually wants to play.

When she falls in love with Orsino, she wants to be a woman that he would consider marrying. Instead, she is a boy working in his court that he would never give a second glance. Now she is trapped in a device of her own making. What was once protecting her is now prohibiting her from striding forward freely to declare her true self and her true feelings. No matter how she chooses to get out of her situation, it’s going to be messy.

Positive: None of her good fortune would have occurred if she hadn’t seized the opportunity.

If she has wandered around on the shore, mourning her losses and misfortune, she might not have ever met Orsino or found her brother again (*spoiler*). The play does have a very happy ending with everyone getting what they want, even if it’s not what they wanted at the beginning of the play. Viola does end up in a good place, and if she had refused to move forward, she may have stayed in a rotten place for a very long time.

Negative: She lied and deceived people.

This ends up hurting everyone around her – the man she’s in love with, the woman who thinks she’s a man, her own brother, and, of course, herself. While it’s true that her actions ultimately have no negative consequences, because everyone ends up happy, that’s not exactly how things run in real life. She could have caused permanent damage and ruined her chances with Orsino completely.

So…

Do the ends justify the means in this case?

Is Viola a good example, or a bad one?

Unlike in a Shakespearean comedy, whichever side you choose will have consequences on your future, for better or for worse.

So Judge for yourself, and judge carefully.

 

0 comments
janeeyrecover

Now that we’ve seen what sort of hero not to be (see last week’s post), we can move forward to a positive example of a hero:

JANE EYRE

(Her last name is pronounced “air,” in case you’re wondering.)

Who is Jane Eyre, you ask? Well if you don’t know, read the novel of the same name by Charlotte Brontë. (The two dots over the ‘e’ just means that you pronounce that vowel as a separate syllable. It’s pronounced “bron-tay”.)

It’s a thoroughly exciting and beautiful novel about an unwanted young woman’s journey to self-actualization with all the struggle, mystery, and romance you could ask for. Experts actually have trouble characterizing it because it seems to be both a gothic thriller AND a romance. So you should definitely read it.

You will not be disappointed.

And why do I love it so much? Well, she’s only one of the most hardcore female characters of the 1800’s, but I’ll let Jane’s character speak for itself.

(Warning: There may be spoilers, if you care about that sort of thing.)

Here is my list of Jane’s traits that you should definitely emulate in order to live a fulfilling and courageous life:

1. Know who you are.

Jane is one of the most confident and self-assured people I have seen. She knows exactly who she is, and she feels no need to obnoxiously proclaim her excellence nor to hide her weirdness (because, let’s face it, she and Mr. Rochester are REALLY weird). She is always honest and up front with everyone she meets – my favorite characteristic of hers – but she doesn’t blather on either. She knows what she is good at and what she is not and acts accordingly, and she fears nothing. She has the confidence in herself to pursue new challenges with the grace and ability that only Jane Eyre could have. She embraces herself as she is, and this frees her to live anywhere and become everything that she has the potential to be.

2. Know the difference between moral obligation and social pressure.

Jane Eyre is very strong in her morals, and she never does anything just because other people say she should. If she is going to marry someone or obey someone, it’s because she knows it’s the right thing to do, not because everyone else pushes her into it. And she always stands up for her friends, even if she gets brutally harassed for being “evil” or “selfish.”

3. Know your place.

This runs in a similar line to knowing who you are, and I don’t mean this in a restrictive sense. I just mean that you should know realistically where you fit into your social ecosystem. Jane never puts on airs (no pun intended) or expects to be treated like more than what she is – a teacher or a governess. She is very humble and practical, without sacrificing her self-confidence and self-assurance. She doesn’t demean herself by scratching and clawing her way up the social ladder, and she never snubs a job for being too humble. Instead, she makes the most of whatever her situation is by creating friendships with the people around her.

4. Know what you want and how much you want it.

Jane has a few moments where she wallows in uncertainty, but in general she is very decisive. She knows that she likes solitude, so she seeks it out. She pursues the employment that she knows she wants, and she is willing to work extremely hard in order to obtain it or keep it. She follows her passions boldly. That scene where she sets off across the moor to find Mr. Rochester always gets me, because it’s so driven and so crazy, but also so beautiful and honest. Is life with Mr. Rochester worth risking death on a hundred-mile walk? Is love worth the difficulties of living with a blind man twice her age? They were for her, and nothing, no fear or uncertainty, could stand in her way.

5. Know what matters in the long run.

Jane understands that a grudge offers no comfort or resolution, so she lets it go. She understands the importance of family, even if it is a family that has been cruel. She is always willing to forgive, once she has thought it all through. Whenever she is in a situation she cannot control, she makes the most of it, following the things that bring her happiness and comfort. She doesn’t let people walk all over her, but she doesn’t complain either. She knows that money, fame, beauty, and fine clothing will all fade in time, offering no real satisfaction, so instead she follows her passions: drawing, teaching, nature… and Mr. Rochester.

 

Jane Eyre lived truthfully and boldly and heroically, even though she was, quite literally, a “plane Jane.” And she defied expectation. No one thought anything extraordinary would come of her. And I suppose, if you think about her life as a school teacher, a governess, and a young housewife, she doesn’t seem all that impressive.

But if you look closely, you will see just how courageously she carved out a life for herself, how bravely she stood up to anyone who ridiculed her, and how honestly she sought simplicity and beauty and truth, even in her own quirky sort of way.

Now THAT is a role model for the ages.

So go forth and live boldly!

(And read Jane Eyre, if you haven’t yet.)

 

 

0 comments
twilightcover

From Batman to Napoleon Dynamite, Katniss to Jasmine, there is a wide range of “heroes” in the world, and not all of them are so heroic. There are too many protagonists (who are not meant to be anti-heroes) that are, quite frankly, terrible examples of what it means to be the main character of a story.

If we learn anything from fiction, just being “the hero” isn’t enough to ensure a good and fulfilling story. You need to make sure that you’re building your own character into the right kind of hero, the kind that you would want to read about.

Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be analyzing different female protagonists. This should give us an insight into positive and negative aspects of character building and help us decide which types of heroes we want to be.

First on the list: Bella Swan of the Twilight series.

(In case you couldn’t tell by the title, my review of her is going to be negative, so if you like her for any reason… well, let’s just say you shouldn’t. But if you do, this post may not be for you.)

So, without further ado, here is “How NOT to Be Bella Swan”:

Step 1Don’t expect to be worshipped for doing absolutely nothing.

Yes, you are a wonderful human being inside and out, but you have potential to be something greater than you are now and to do bigger and better things for yourself and others. Don’t walk into a room or a relationship expecting people to let you stay exactly as you are FOREVER and to think that your mediocrity alone causes the sun to shine.

Step 2Do NOT, under any circumstances, follow the creepy, pale man into the woods. (Seriously, don’t be stupid.)

Even if he doesn’t want to eat you, nothing good can possibly come of this. THINK THROUGH YOUR ACTIONS. Make informed decisions by evaluating your situation. Ask questions. And if you still feel you absolutely HAVE to go into the woods after the pale man, then tell someone where you’re going and bring a few friends. (Seriously, you could DIE.)

Step 3 – Don’t believe for one second that you can be reduced to a pale, clumsy, faceless, shy creature.

The adaptability of Bella’s character that allows every single female reader to identify with her makes her into a very basic and empty character that no one should aspire to be. Don’t let yourself be pulled into the trap of believing that you are a good-for-nothing nobody. Know who you are, and know your own value, because I can GUARANTEE it’s infinitely higher than the value Bella attributes to herself.

Step 4 – Don’t let anyone else (not even sparkly vampires) dictate your passions and goals.

Of COURSE you should listen to the people with more experience than you. If Daddy says don’t hang out with a bloodsucker, maybe this is a sign you should stay away. But you also shouldn’t let anyone define all of your passions and interests. Take them from multiple people and make a few for yourself. Weigh the value of the source before allowing their goals to consume yours too.

Step 5 – Help people with their problems, but don’t let yourself be consumed by them.

Becoming an alcoholic so you can be with your alcoholic boyfriend forever is a truly horrible idea, and a terrible plan for getting him out of his alcoholism.

Step 6 – If he watches you sleep, maybe you should break up.

In case you weren’t sure, stalker tendencies are BAD, not endearing.

Step 7 – When bad things happen, make the most of them. Don’t wallow in your sadness for an entire year without leaving your room.

This is not a beautiful demonstration of undying love. It’s sad and a bit pathetic, particularly if you’ve only known this person for less than a year. Put your suffering into perspective, and try to find positive things to take with you as you move forward in life. Don’t let your pain define you.

Step 8 – Actually TRY to make friends.

Having more than one friend is extremely important for being a well-rounded, well-adjusted person. And just because someone “doesn’t understand you” right off the bat, doesn’t mean there’s no potential for at least a pleasant friendship there. Actually put effort into learning about other people, and I think you’ll find that people are more like you than you think.

Step 9 – If someone/something else defines your entire your personality, maybe you should move on.

What do we know about Bella? She’s in love with a sparkly vampire. Anything else? Any personality traits that we remember? Nope. Not a single one.

Step 10 Don’t wait around for life to happen to you.

GO and DO something with your life. Make dreams happen. Enjoy more than one person’s company. Travel! Don’t settle for teenage pregnancy and the life of a Washington hermit, at least not until you’ve tried something else.

 

Overall, you just need to know who you are and use your brain.

If you follow these ten basic steps you should live an exciting and truly heroic life that is wonderfully vampire-free.

 

Happy character-building!

 

1 comment
orderofthephoenix

So here we are, back in Harry Potter land.

You didn’t think we were going to leave that quickly, did you? There’s so much more we can learn from the British teenage wizards.

However, to conclude this little escapade, I’d like to offer an alternative to the sort of “in-crowd” team that I talked about last week and also provide you with some questions for discerning between the two.

 

The ambiguous “they” who conduct the ambiguous “studies” show that you are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with.

Notice that this does not say you are the average of your five closest friends. You are the average of the five people that you actually spend every day with and rub shoulders with, EVEN IF YOU DON’T LIKE THEM.

So, that begs the question: Where do you spend most of your time? And with whom?

Chances are it’s the people that you work with.

Now there’s a terrifying thought.

Are the people around you all the power-hungry, greedy, grumpy, accusatory, procrastinating sort of people?

Are you surrounded by the people of the Slug Club? (See previous post.)

OR, are you surrounded by a power team, full of kind and honest people that know how to work hard and still care?

I suppose the better question is which one do you want to be around?

I’m going to assume that you’re not a horrible human being and say that you want the second one, which basically means that you want to be in Dumbledore’s Army.

But wasn’t that a bunch of kids revolting against the most hated school teacher in history by doing their homework in secret?

Yes, yes it was, and it was awesome.

Besides how much I love the fact that they made learning cool and rebellious, what really made the DA great were the people who were part of it.

Just look at the line-up:

Harry – the really angry and broody leader who for some unknowable reason is really good at magic… and also taking responsibility and leading by example and all that too…

Hermione – the wunderkind, magical genius, and book reader

Ron – the loyal comic relief (Never underestimate the importance of comic relief. EVER.)

Neville – the dopey, awkward kid with a whole lot of bravery

Luna – the weirdest, most pure-hearted and honest blonde ever to walk the earth

and Ginny – the youngest sister of six brothers, and, as a result, the most hardcore teenager ever

They don’t seem like they would be that successful just from looking at them. I mean, honestly, they’re some of the weirdest people. But together they have the qualities that are important in a team – the drive to accomplish important goals, the teamwork necessary to conquer them, and the heart to do them right.

You need ALL of these things – all of these people – in order to be the person that you want to be. And you need all of these people in order to be successful in your career/life pursuits.

You want to surround yourself with people that will lift you up rather than dispose of you when you are no longer useful.

You want to find people that you are willing to support in return, through thick and thin.

You want to find people who care about what they do and who do it well (for the most part), without harming anyone else.

This is the team that you want to be on, in whatever field you choose.

And how do you tell which sort of team you’re on? All you have to do is ask yourself a series of questions:

1. Will your teammates likely murder you if you become more successful than they are?

If yes, get out IMMEDIATELY, no matter how advantageous the situation is. If no, then ask yourself a second question.

2. Will my teammates show up when I call them randomly in desperate need of help in a possibly life (or career)-threatening situation?

If yes, stick with these people FOREVER. If no, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Hang around for a while and work on building closer relationships with them. Maybe you’re just not there yet, and this is completely normal and fine. But remember, if you start to notice murderous tendencies, then it’s time to move on.

(Now I know that this sort of picking and choosing isn’t exactly possible in a lot of jobs. You join a company with countless coworkers that you don’t get to hand pick, and most people, whatever their working situation, are just happy to have a job at all. But you probably have more power over your job situation than you realize… just something to think about.)

 

So, if you’re going to be the average of the five closest members of your team, do you want it to be the the Slug Club, or Dumbledore’s Army?

Your choice.

If you really do want to be filthy rich and own an island, then maybe the Slug Club is the best option.

But if you get murdered for turning into a wildly successful but horrible human being, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

0 comments
halfbloodprince

“The Slug Club” is not a cutesy name for Fight Club or anything like that. It’s actually from the Harry Potter books – the slang title of an elite club of students that were hand selected by Professor Slughorn (hence the “Slug” club) each year for their fame, power, intelligence, and skill.

Basically, Slughorn invited a few students to his office to eat food and brag about themselves.

As incredibly dull as it sounds, and as much as most of its members disliked the club, The Slug Club was still a very enviable position that incited a great deal of jealousy, intrigue, and dislike amongst the students of Hogwarts – understandably so. This club put a distinct and palpable barrier between the cool people and the failures. Suddenly there was an actual “in crowd.” And it had a name and everything.

So why am I ironically discussing the nuances of Harry Potter in a sophisticated manner?

Well, see, this Slug Club, it’s not an isolated phenomenon. The whole word, and the professional world in particular, is full of the “cool people” and the “elite” and the “in crowd,” and sometimes it can seem like we can only be successful if we’re part of one of those groups.

Besides, isn’t that the ultimate goal of networking? To worm your way into a connection with the most successful people? How can you achieve your full potential if the people with all the money, power, and influence don’t know who you are? How will you be seen if “THEY” don’t see you?

I think these are very important questions, and I also think the Harry Potter books provide a lovely insight into the workings of one of these crowds of cool kids. So hopefully, by looking at The Slug Club, you can decide for yourself whether or not it’s something you need.

The first step to making an informed decision is recognizing The Slug Club for what it is:

A shallow, loosely-connected group of self-interested people.

Slughorn formed this group so he could collect the future famous, rich, and powerful of the wizarding world. He had no noble intentions of “helping them make connections” or “giving them a leg up,” despite what he may have said. He was primarily concerned with what benefits they could give him once they had made it.

These people are probably not your friends. You may have friends who get invited into the group by chance (Harry, Hermione, and Ginny were all separately invited in their own right.), but don’t mistake people needing each other professionally for friendship. They keep each around purely for selfish reasons.

If you want to stick around, you’ll have to make sure you stay needed.

Secondly, opportunities and recognition may be a by-product of being part of the club, but that doesn’t mean you should go seek it out.

All they do is sit around and congratulate themselves on how awesome they are. The Slug Club dinners were not remotely useful or enjoyable. The only thing that made them special was that they were exclusive. It didn’t matter what the club actually did; it only mattered that it existed.

Anyone with any sense in that club (aka Harry, Hermione, and Ginny) kept working hard and pursuing their goals apart from the club. Of course, they still participated, because it seemed rude to turn down such an invitation, but they recognized the club for what it was and kept themselves as distant from its lazy, self-glorifying attitude as possible.

Success for its own sake is useless and empty. And then, once you’ve joined the group, is everything just over? Do you give up trying because suddenly you’ve achieved success? Or do you slave away for your “friends” in an obsession over money. Neither one sounds very appealing.

So, on the whole, achieving Slug Club status probably shouldn’t be your career goal.

Don’t stoop to their level.

Finally, if you get invited to join the cool kids, consider the opportunity, but don’t feel like it’s something you HAVE to do. It’s not! You can be very successful apart from the in crowd, making connections with people you care about and following your own path.

Ok, so you don’t become a millionaire, but is that really such a bad thing? You’ll have achieved success in your own right, while being ethical and happy and free.

Look at Neville, and Ron, and Luna. After each of them played a key role in defeating Lord Voldemort, no less, they all found their ideal careers and lived happy and successful lives. None of them were invited to join The Slug Club.

So don’t give in to the pressure and the craving to be on the inside. Go your own way!

And don’t sweat it if you never get invited to join.

 

If The Slug Club is any indication, you’re not missing much.

 

 

 

 

0 comments
anneofgreengables

It is one of the great tragedies of the reader’s life that she must inevitably fall in love with a man she has no hope of being with… because he’s in a book… so he’s not real. (He’s not real. He’s not real.)

One of these such young men came strolling into my life, with that smug smile on his face, when I was thirteen.

His name? Gilbert Blythe.

As a few of you probably know, the actor who played this beautiful young man in the movies was named Jonathan Crombie, and just a week and two days ago, he died. He DIED. Gilbert Blythe is dead. Break out the ashes and sackcloth. Start sewing up your black muslin. It’s mourning time.

However, in an effort to be more positive, and to honor his memory, I have actually decided to talk about his wife, the protagonist and title character of the novels:

ANNE (with an ‘e’ – that’s very important)

the craziest and most wonderful heroine of Canadian literature. (I actually don’t think I’ve read any other Canadian literature… but that’s beside the point. She’s awesome.)

After looking back over my time growing up with her, I think the most valuable lesson I learned from Anne was how to make mistakes.

Let’s recount some of her best:

1. That time she dyed her hair green.

The redness of her hair was sort of a sore spot for Anne for many years, and one time she tried to fix it using a dye from a peddler that was supposed to turn her hair black. Instead it just turned her hair bright green, and Marilla had to cut it all off. She used her “unattractive appearance” to remind herself of the consequences of vanity.

2. That time she went “fishing for lake trout.”

Always the romantic poet, she decided that it would be fun to ride down the river in a boat, pretending to be the dead Lady of Shallot from the dramatic Tennyson poem. She ended up falling into the river instead. Oops.

When Gilbert rode up and asked what she was doing, and she said she was “fishing for lake trout.” He didn’t believe her for one second, but he also didn’t question or make fun of her. Instead he got in a boat and fished her out.

3. That time she fell off the roof.

As the new kid on the block, and a strange one at that, she was so determined to prove herself to the other kids at school that she decided to walk the ridgepole of a roof. (You know the pointy part of a roof that’s maybe two inches wide? Yeah that part. She tried walking on that.)

Of course she didn’t believe she could do it, but that didn’t stop her. Instead she climbed on up, made it about halfway, and then promptly fell off and sprained her ankle.

4. That time she wrote a book that was way too ridiculous.

Melodrama! Melodrama! Oh how Anne loved her passionate love affairs and dramatic deaths. Unfortunately, these melodramas do not a good novel make.

Gil was smart enough to tell her so to her face, even when publishers just politely disregarded her without saying why. Every good writer has to learn how NOT to write, and Anne learned the hard way.

5. That time she smashed a slate on Gil’s head.

This is the most famous Anne moment, and it is probably one of my favorites. Love at first sight? Not a chance. But love at first slate smashing? That I’ll believe.

He called her “carrots” to get her attention. She screamed and smashed a slate on his head, right in front of the infuriated teacher. The rest is history.

 

Anne didn’t live life timidly. She charged into it head on, full speed ahead. Anything she set her mind to, she did. And even if it was a complete disaster (as it often was) she never mourned it for too long. She would have some dramatic pity party for about a day, but then she would pick herself up, look in the mirror, and find some kind of moral in it. She would learn from it and then forge on ahead.

She chose to see mystery and beauty wherever she went, and so she chased it passionately, even if it tripped her up along the way.

Anne taught me not to be afraid of failure, to embrace its possibility and learn from it, because without a little risk and a little passion, nothing worthwhile will get done.

And look how it payed off? She lived such a beautiful and full life, and she fulfilled all of her dreams. She turned even the sourest of people into life-long friends. She married Gilbert. They had the most ADORABLE children ever. Come on, now.

Isn’t that the kind of life you want to live?

Yup, me too.

So take some advice from the fabulous Anne with an e, and go make some epic mistakes.

 

0 comments
sherlockholmescover

How Does He Do It?!

For those of you who have read Conan Doyle’s books, or seen some of the film and television representations, you’ll know that the protagonist Sherlock Holmes has some pretty uncanny networking abilities.

By this I do not mean his brazen and rude (but sometimes justified) treatment of the local police force. I definitely don’t recommend insulting the only people who can give you a job.

What I’m referring to is the fact that somehow, whenever Holmes needs some kind of information or some job done, a scraggly child or homeless man appears out of the shadows with EXACTLY what he needs. POOF.

How? Apparently just because he’s Sherlock Holmes. These random strangers are a MAJOR factor in the success of his sleuthing operations, and he seems to be able to conjure them out of thin air!

However, if we look a little deeper into Sherlock’s methods, I think we can extract a lot of practical information that will prove useful in making our own connections in the professional world. 

So here they are – the DO’s and DON’T’s of networking, according to Sherlock Holmes.

1. DO follow your passions and interests.

Sherlock Holmes is a curious man with very particular tastes, but what makes him extraordinary is that he follows those passions until the bitter end. He was curious about tobacco ash, so he did months of study, burning cigars and analyzing their ashes. THAT is dedication (not to mention, unbelievably boring), and it proved to be a vital piece of information for his detective work.

Same thing with his networking.

Sherlock found those random people off the street, not by magic, but because he was curious and interested in some random bit of information that only homeless people would find it important enough to know. He didn’t just sit around thinking about something he’d like to learn. He went out looking for it.

2. DON’T snub an opportunity or a connection just because it comes from a “lowly” or “unconventional” source.

You don’t have to go to the “best” company in the business for an internship or do research with the most socially acceptable authority on a subject. Sometimes the people who know the most are the people who aren’t as public or are still relatively unknown.

Look at Sherlock. The police were supposed to be the people who knew all of the goings-on of the streets, and scientists or doctors were supposed to be the most knowledgeable about the world. Instead of going to them, like a normal human being, he went right to the SOURCE.

He didn’t underestimate anyone, and he didn’t disregard a person’s knowledge or experiences. He learned from EVERYONE, and it most definitely paid off. You never know where a valuable piece of information is going to come from.

3. DO find out what your connections want.

Holmes would always pay his informants and assistants very generously, and likely this was their primary incentive.

Now, just to be clear, I am NOT recommending bribery. This is illegal and wrong.

What I AM suggesting is that, when you contact an expert about a way they can help you, find out what they are looking for as well. Use the connections you already have to offer something in return. For instance: Do they need more advertising? Offer them ad space in your friend’s publication or radio show (WITH YOUR FRIEND’S PERMISSION).

This makes your request for help more like an exchange than an act of charity, and it will likely increase their interest in helping you. Let’s be honest, businesses are run by money. If a business can’t get some money out of their connection with you, they may not want to keep it going for very long. (The rule may not necessarily apply to individual people, but it never hurts to have the information just in case.)

4. DON’T be afraid to ask.

The great, intelligent Sherlock Holmes asked children for HELP. Take a minute to realize how extraordinary that is. If he can do it, so can you. ASK. Otherwise you won’t gain anything to set you apart from the crowd.

Remember you’re never done learning. No one is! So asking questions isn’t a shameful thing, and it’s not an annoying thing either. It’s a sign of maturity and interest.

If people don’t know you’re interested in a job or in their research, then how will they offer you the opportunity to let you help? Make your voice heard, and eventually someone will respond back with some amazing opportunity.

 

So keep following your passions to every unconventional place, and ask everyone for help, always armed with connections and skills to offer in return. Follow these simple Sherlockian rules, and you’re on your way to getting where you want to go, wherever that may be.

Now there’s nothing left to say but…

Happy networking! Best of luck out there.

(And go watch some Sherlock. It’s been a while.)

0 comments
Art by Amy Freeman

Predict Your Own Happy Ending

 

Have you ever watched a movie with that one friend who can see a movie for the first time and know exactly how it’s going to end, so naturally they have to ruin it for everyone else? Or maybe you are that friend? Well, in this post, I’m going to give you the secret to their success, and the secret for your success in life, all by discussing one simple topic:

GENRE.

When I bring up the word genre, you may think, “Oh no, she’s talking about literary terms that I learned five years ago, and they bring back such painful memories of English classes!” Or you may think, “Ugh, I hate genre fiction. It’s so bland and cheesy.” Or you may just say, “Huh?”

Whatever your initial reaction may be, I’d like you to bear with me for a second and really think about what genre means.

So what is it?

Well, genre is typically defined as a category of artistic composition based on style or subject matter. Basically, one day some people (who were probably French) were sitting around thinking about art or literature, and they thought,

“Huh, these certain things are very similar to these things, so I think we’re going to give those things a name, just for funsies. (That’s a technical term.) Let’s call those things “romance novels”… But those can’t be the same as “romantic” novels of the romantic era, because that would be way too easy for twenty-first century high school students to understand. We are French! We must have standards!”

Basically, at some point in time, someone decided to put lines between types of things in order to help themselves categorize and DEscribe what was already in existence.

But what ended up happening was not what they had originally intended.

These genre categories began to PREscribe how writers ought to write by establishing dividing lines and forcing people to write into categories. Genre ended up telling readers what to expect from the books they were reading and what perspective to take on the events happening in the book. The genre of a book told the reader whether or not to take the plot seriously and how to analyze the characters, among other things. This crossed over into movies as well, and the list of genres has continued to expand almost as quickly as the list of church denominations.

Here’s an example:

You’re watching a romantic comedy, and the male and female leads are having a big fight. They’re standing in the rain after one of them has done something unbelievably stupid. All of the truth is out, and now they’re having a shouting match for the ages. They’ve both really been hurt, and after a while they part ways, sopping wet and miserable.

How do you react?

If you’re being honest, you probably laugh throughout the entire argument.

But that’s so sadistic! So cruel!

Yes, but it’s also true. Romantic comedy arguments are almost always really entertaining, for some reason.

The interesting question is, why?

Think about it: YOU KNOW WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN. You KNOW how the story is going to END! It’s a Romantic Comedy, for crying out loud. They’re going to make up, declare their undying love for each other, and ride off awkwardly and hilariously into the sunset. Who cares if they had one little fight? They’ll be fine within the next ten minutes of movie time. So you as the audience don’t have to worry about the argument. Instead, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy all of the little funny things they say and do, even though they’re screaming at each other.

But now consider the same argument with the same script going down in a depressing indie film that’s trying too hard to be meaningful. You see that argument, those two characters stomping off into the rain, and you’re wondering whether one of them isn’t going to kill themselves.

I’m right, aren’t I?

(Yes, I am.)

So why can’t that be true about life? Why can’t the way we’re expecting our story to end change the way we view the various ups and downs of our existence (of our careers, love stories, passions)? Why can’t it change the way we behave?

Why can’t characters in the indie movie could turn their film into a romantic comedy?

Well, besides the fact that they’re fictional, they can! All they have to do is not kill themselves and get back together instead. That seems so simple. Too simple even, but that’s really all it takes. All they have to do is ACT like they’re in a rom-com, and then they’ll BE in one.

THIS CAN BE TRUE FOR YOU TOO!

Genre does not determine the future. It only determines what you EXPECT out of the future, and that can totally change.

So start living more like you’re in a romantic comedy, and see what happens.

 

0 comments

Monsters vs. Heroes

Artwork by psycrowe on Deviant Art

“Fairytales don’t tell children that dragons exist; children already know that dragons exist. Fairytales tell children that dragons can be killed.”

G.K. Chesterton

That negative, cynical co-worker that could win the lottery and still complain that they had to pay taxes on their winnings.  The comments online or the friends that always point out your flaws when you have good news to share. The evil boss that micromanages, takes your ideas as their own, and talks down to you every chance they get. The shadows of your past that creep on you when you’re putting yourself out there that make you feel vulnerable, unsure, to the point where you want to recoil. 

These are dragons, and they do exist. 

Vampires exist.  Ghosts, and trolls–yes, they exist too.  But before you think we’re in an early episode of True Blood or Supernatural, let me tell you this: they exist in different forms than from our fairy tales.

The Dragons aren’t amazing, lizard-like creatures or insane animals that breathe fire and try to destroy knights. These days, dragons come dressed in power suits, ready to try to swallow you whole whenever you try something new. They wear false smiles and inwardly never cease to find a way to bring you down before you can reach your full potential. They hoard all the success to themselves.

Vampires are similar.  These are the friends and co-workers or people that you know that can literally suck the joy right out of you.  They leave you feeling tired, depressed, and feeling like you should just give up.  They latch onto anything that will turn the conversation negative to fit their needs.  It’s like they’re dead inside, so everyone else should be too.

Trolls are the people that point out any flaw.  They’re mostly found anonymous in the comments on YouTube and in blogs.  Yahoo news is a hotbed for trolls.  You know what I’m talking about when I say troll because now it’s a verb.  You can troll anyone on the good ol’ internet these days.

 Ghosts are the hardest.  Ghosts take the form of past disappointments, dreams lost, and doubts that follow you around from your past.  They are dead and gone, but your memories stubbornly keep them just alive enough to set fear into your heart. They keep you from exploring and taking risks. They trap you inside your own head.

What’s the point?  Well, this:

Everyday you’re going to face these “mythical” creatures. The important part is what you decide to do with them.

We know that the heroes of the story would face them head on, running boldly into battle, no matter what the outcome, while the rest of the cast would turn and run.

So are you the hero or the foil?

Your choice.

If you choose to be the hero, know that it will take a lot to slay these creatures.  The first step is going to be identifying them.  Don’t shy away from those regrets or those professional rivals that seem to have it all together. Face them head on. Dig them up. Surprise them. If you’ve read any classic literature, you’ll know that most monsters lose because they underestimate their opponents.

The second step is realizing how you’re going to defend yourself. Get to know your adversary. Is it a dragon? Learn what treasure to tempt it with. A ghost? Learn how to turn those memories into fuel to carry you to victory. A troll? Find out how to discredit them; that shouldn’t be hard. A vampire? Find some garlic. Find a tasty positivity that is so repugnant to them that they run away and hide.

The third step is practice. Practice, practice, practice.  Pretty soon, wielding a sword will seem like second nature to you. Your instincts will kick in, and your opponents won’t even know what hit them. They may get smarter, but you’ll always be one step ahead. 

So remember, these creatures don’t just exist in fantasy. They’re all around you, waiting to keep you from fulfilling your mission. But don’t despair. Look at the examples of victory all around you. It IS possible to become the conquering hero. You just have to be ready to put up a good fight, even if you don’t think you know how. Chances are, they’ll be so shocked you even retaliated that they’ll stop in their tracks. But they might not, so be ready. Just remember to identify, understand, and act.

And that, my friends, is how you slay the monsters.

0 comments