A comment on my Facebook page reminded me of the journey I’m on, and how it began. The commenter referenced the title of a book by M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: The New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth.
If you aren’t familiar with Peck’s book, it was a popular book, probably the one Peck is best known for, and has a self-help and even a spiritual vibe to it. Briefly, The Road Less Traveled lays out Peck’s personal prescription for living a fulfilled life. It was one of several books that influenced me in 2002-2003, while working for a large insurance corporation, to begin seeking a new path, leaving the one I was on that was making me miserable.
An interesting aside—interesting, at least to me, as a writer/publisher—was Peck’s own difficulties finding an audience for the book after writing it, in 1978. He was originally turned down by Random House. They didn’t like the religious overtones of the book. He eventually signed on with Simon & Schuster who published the work for $7,500 and printed a modest hardback run of 5,000 copies. The book took off only after Peck hit the lecture circuit and personally sought out reviews for the book. The book was reprinted in paperback in 1980, but it was another four years before it would show up on best-seller lists, six years after initial publication. Peck’s experience is just one more reminder that success rarely, if ever, occurs “overnight.”
For 11 weeks now, I’ve been slogging along my own sparsely traveled road, meeting few people coming from the other direction. Actually, I’ve been networking like crazy, but the offers for my services aren’t exactly rolling in. There have been instances where people have ignored me, to put it politely, or blown me off, which is how I’d characterize some of the rejection, because ultimately, it is rejection, no matter how politely it ends up being packaged.
In the context of Peck’s book, “life is difficult.” Peck indicates that acceptance of life’s difficulties signifies the beginning of growth. Additionally, overcoming life’s difficulties requires discipline. Solving them evokes frustration, grief, and a host of other emotions. Sadness, loneliness, even anger, often make us uncomfortable and sometimes the people around us. Without summarizing the entire book’s concept, Peck says that “problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom.” Interestingly, Peck (along with many other thought leaders) posit that problems are what “create our courage and our wisdom.” Problems, pain, and difficulties are where growth originates. This is a message that flies in the face of our current cultural orientation of “get rich quick,” and the easy believe-ism inherent in formulas that teach us that success comes from a simple set of steps, thinking something, or some other cockamamie scheme involving no pain, no suffering, and where we are expected to walk around like a Pollyanna all day, with a beatific smile on our faces. That’s just bullshit, to put it bluntly.
The past couple of weeks have been very difficult. First, I was backed up with some high-order deadlines that I had contracted to deliver up with too little time to prepare and carry them out. Second, after nearly three months of putting my name out there, letting others know about my loss hours with my primary employer, I expected that something new would have surfaced by now. Instead, by Monday evening, I felt like what I imagined it must feel like to have been sent by train by some Soviet dictator, to a work sentence in Siberia.
On Tuesday, feeling about as low as I’ve felt in three months, I almost called the person I was supposed to meet at 3:30. I had no energy, and little enthusiasm to network and talk. I’m glad that I persevered because that meeting over tea provided me with a small spark and some helpful advice.
On Wednesday that spark helped me to face up to a difficult situation, one that I wouldn’t have handled so well in the past. In fact, I probably would have let my anger get the best of me. Instead, I went into my meeting prepared, with my facts, admitted my own mistakes, and managed to take an important step forward and experience growth, learning a valuable lesson as a freelancer.
I’ll end by sharing the story of one of my friends. This person is someone who I consider very special in my life. She’s been a true friend, allowing me to be me and never wavering in her friendship and support.
My friend just landed a brand new job. After doing the same thing for 10 years and knowing that she needed to make a change, a new position came available. My friend talked to me during the interview process and after the offer had been made. She was worried about a couple of things and also anxious about taking this leap to something brand new and different. I told her to trust her instincts, negotiate a better offer, and she ultimately took the new position. I saw her at the gym yesterday and she was so excited after making it through her first day and realizing that she’d made the right choice in taking a chance.
Will everything go perfect for her from here on out? Not if her life is like everyone else’s, it won’t. New co-workers will eventually irritate her, the job will reveal problems, and she’ll have to adapt. What’s exciting for me and important to my friend is that she took a risk, something that we all have to do in order to grow and have any hope of success. This step is the beginning of a new journey for her.
Today is a much better day. I feel like I have my swagger back. I know that there’s a series of bumps and potholes ahead, but I need to remember Peck’s admonition that growth is infused with pain and difficulties and that this is how we continue to move forward and eventually succeed.