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On the Contrary: Whiners Need Not Apply

In times of struggle, you've got no one to blame but yourself.

June 20, 2002
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Sometime last summer, I decided to host a pity party and invite all myfriends. Well, not all my friends, exactly. Only those whose livelihoods mighthave, like mine, been suffering from the downward slide of the economy. To makethe guest list, invitees would have to possess the ability to grumble, rant,complain, gripe, fuss, snarl, groan, scream, and kvetch -- preferably all at thesame time. I wanted world-class whiners at my party. Optimists need not apply.

The idea for the party came about after several back-to-back conversationswith various editors, all of whom related different versions of the samescenario: advertising sales are down, there are fewer magazine pages to fill, sowe don’t have as many assignments for contract writers like you. Almostovernight, or so it seemed, the regular work I’d come to count on disappeared."Sorry," my editors said. "But do keep in touch."

But I didn’t keep in touch. And instead of bucking up and marketing myselfto new clients, instead of choosing to view this "challenge" as an "opportunity,"as I’d been taught in so many motivational seminars, I chose to complain.Loudly. With great chest-heaving drama. Picture Joan Crawford, wrist toforehead, lying in a bed strewn with movie magazines, and you have some idea ofmy MO.

I subscribed to this fake-it-till-you-make-it philosophy for a long time, and you know what? It works.

The beauty of my pity party was that it was not time -- or location --dependent. Instead, it was an ad hoc celebration that occurred on the phone andover dinner, and lasted from midsummer until well into October. The lengthyguest list included such luminaries as other freelance "worst-market-in-15-years"writers; graphic "clients-just-aren’t-spending-money" designers; andsoftware "we’re-wondering-how-to-make-it-through-December" executives.These people made the cut because I knew they’d confirm my belief that theeconomy was in the toilet and there was no, I repeat, no work to be found.Anyone whose work might be humming along as usual or, worse yet, improving --this includes criminal lawyers, medical professionals, and teachers -- wasconveniently left off the invitation list.

Whenever I met a fellow partygoer I’d ask, perhaps a bit too eagerly: "Sohow bad is it for you? Any layoffs yet? Tell me again about losing thatcontract."

It was such a bad case of selective perception and self-pity that Iinterpreted everything around me as proof that work was not available. I’dspot smiling families playing in the park and assume the parents must’ve losttheir jobs. I’d see people laughing in restaurants and assume they were drunk,probably as a way to mask their deep internal misery.

I was so convinced I’d never be hired for another writing assignment that Istopped even trying to find work. Instead, I stayed home, played computersolitaire, and wished I’d saved more money.

Then, I met with my personal coach, a wise and wonderful woman whom I pay tokeep me on track in life.

"Shari," she said gently. "All of us create our own realities. Yoursituation seems hopeless because that’s how you’ve decided it should be. Howwould you act if you knew the economy was good and work was available?"

"Ummm," I said. "I guess I’d line up some new storyideas?" Ianswered her tentatively, as if I was asking a question, as if I were afifth-grader who wasn’t quite sure if Boise is indeed the capital of Idaho.

"Good," she said. "Then what would you do?"

"Ummm, I guess I’d call some editors?"

Then she asked, doing her best not to sound like my mother: "Have youcalled any editors lately?"

"Ummm, no."

"Then is it any surprise you’re not getting any work?"

I got the picture. I spent the following Sunday researching potential storyideas and preparing letters for my magazine clients. I sent the letters out viae-mail and, within 24 jaw-dropping hours, had three new assignments. A weeklater, a fourth one came in, and two weeks after that, an associate of minecalled about some international speaking and publishing opportunities that willprobably occur later this year.

When I started in business for myself, an experienced entrepreneur told methat even during downtimes, I should always project a positive, successfulimage. So what if clients hadn’t paid me in months or I hadn’t changed outof my terrycloth robe in days? Every inquiry about my business should be metwith the same response: "It’s terrific! Never been better!"

I subscribed to this fake-it-till-you-make-it philosophy for a long time, andyou know what? It works. But apparently, last summer, after years ofround-the-clock, worry-free assignments, I had forgotten that success,confidence, and happiness are often a matter of where you place your attention.When I finally got out of bed and began to act as if I were a successfulprofessional, the work appeared with stunning rapidity.

While there are many people in the United States who are genuinely strugglingbecause of layoffs and lost business opportunities, my advice to them -- basedon my own humbling experience -- is not to relinquish dreams to pessimism. Theglass is not half empty, nor is it cracked in half with dried milk on thebottom. If you continue to believe in yourself, others will, too.

My pity party is now over, fortunately, and friends who grew tired of mybleak line of questioning are no longer darting down the baby-goods aisle insupermarkets in an effort to avoid me. My professional confidence index is up,and I’m now looking for optimists to celebrate with me. Whiners need notapply.

Workforce, February 2002, pp. 24-25 -- Subscribe Now!

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