How To Align Your Own Stars

Recently I was talking to one of my sons about his future. (We talk Big Picture around here.) He’s a bright child and has high aspirations. However, it seemed to me that he was waiting for it to all fall in place one day—a dream rather than a goal. In my most gentle, motherly voice I said, “You have to MAKE it happen.”

I learned that from Twitter.

And Malcolm Gladwell, and my mother, and life in general, I suppose. I referenced Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Outliers, and my son casually pulled an unread copy from his bookshelf. So he’s not clueless, he’s just busy being a kid. I summarized it like this: “It takes 10,000 hours to be really good at something. Spend the first three hours reading the book.”

“I began writing novels in 2007,” she says with a sheepish smile. “Why am I not published yet?”

Every writerly blog I now read describes my story to a T on their What Not To Do blogs. It’s laughable because I know that there is so much more to know, and I hope to keep learning until the day I die (another 30 or 40 years, please).  Years from now I’ll re-read this post and laugh at my self-proclaimed wisdom on 7/18/11. But I am nothing if not persistent. Just today, for instance, I discovered ROW80, and in trying to add their badge to this blog, I discovered bunches of other cool stuff to add. I feel so professional! I’m sure somewhere out there is a blog about how to create blog, but I haven’t found it yet. But today I am one step closer to being a professional writer.

When I was an art dealer, many of my artists asked me how to become rich and famous. My answer was, “The tools are easy; it’s the details that’ll kill ya.” Here are the stars that must align to become successful in any career:

1. Talent: The more natural your aptitude, the less effort it will take, but fortunately talent can be learned. After an honest and concerted effort, consult multiple experts in your field and ask them for advice and if they think you have talent. Whether or not you listen to what they say depends on your passion for your chosen goal. Don’t give up too soon!  However, there are some  instances where it’s better to change your goals than kill yourself trying to be successful at a pipe dream; i.e. a wannabe basketball star might become a coach; a wannabe painter might try sculpture; a wannabe novelist might write non-fiction. Remember: There’s a fine line between persistence and insanity—at some point, reality should prevail.
2. Time: Winning the lottery is the ubiquitous example of people looking for the shortcut. But even those who win the lottery have usually been playing for years and paying thousands of dollars along the way. Imagine if you spent all that time and money on education, training or buying books to read about making yourself successful instead of putting all your hope in randomness. 10,000 hours = 40 hr/week for 5 years. Or, if your doing this in your spare time, 10,000 hours = 20 hr/week for 10 years. READ. PRACTICE. BE PATIENT.
3. Luck: Ah, lady luck. Oprah doesn’t believe in luck. Well, Oprah, I do. Yes, I believe we can make our own luck through preparation, but I was repeatedly amazed in the art world when the right collector stumbled upon the right piece by the right artist; bought the piece; showed it to other collectors and museum people; and the artist’s career took off.

Success. Simple as that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a few more hours to put in.

Vacationally Challenged

An Essay by Karolyn Sherwood

When my husband asked me, “How would you like to spend two months in paradise?”  I said, “Define ‘paradise.’”

It’s the second time around for both of us, married for six years now, and before I met him I didn’t think true love really existed. It does. However, when it comes to the perfect vacation, he likes to relax on a sandy beach; I like museums and theater and energy. Just the mention of remote villages, hot sun, and high tide makes me start looking around for sunscreen and Free Wireless Internet signs. And sympathy. Few people understand my reluctance to leave our home in the upper-Midwest for two of the coldest months on record for a villa in Costa Rica that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

My husband is older and wiser and retired. Together we have seven children, ages 19 to 29; now official empty-nesters. With record snowfalls across the country, it is the perfect winter to get away. And, being a writer, I can, theoretically and according to The Dream, write from anywhere. Writers long for the day they can sit perched on a mountain top, overlooking the deep blue sea as I am doing now. So, one might ask, what’s the problem? Go, relax, enjoy!

The problem is I don’t want to relax. I’m a city girl with goals and an agenda. Scratching through each entry on my To Do list makes me happy. And what about family, friends, kids? I will not have access to my omnipresent iPhone, my ancillary brain. Even if we can Skype occasionally, it won’t be the same. Writing, reading, working out, watching the stock market, lunching with friends…. I love my life no matter what the temperature is outside my door. Now I’m supposed to find time to learn Spanish and explore a new country?

My husband has a different perspective on life. He turns sixty this year, a milestone he never thought he’d see. Twenty years ago he was diagnosed with a rare, congenital disease. In 1995, he quit working and eventually sold his company. Now, each day is a gift he opens at sunrise, never to be taken for granted. Not a day goes by that we don’t laugh. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t tell me how much he loves me. Going to a third-world country for two months is the least I can do for him.

I admit I’m a bit high-strung. (Play laugh track from kids here.) It’s not that I want to be high maintenance, I just like what I like. And I don’t know how to say, “Just cover the grays,” in Spanish. So in my extra-large suitcase, I’ve packed a few sundresses, shorts, t-shirts, swimsuits, and flip-flops. No heals, no Prada, no diamonds. Instead, I have a box of hair color, sixty days worth of vitamins, basic pharmaceutical supplies, face products (Please, no wrinkles!), and a full-size Pilates mat with five workout videos. Four thick novels, two Spanish phrasebooks, my iPod, camera, various chargers, and most importantly, my laptop, and I am prepared for paradise.

When we board the plane, it’s two degrees outside, twelve below with wind chill; ninety-five and sunny when we land. My husband stretches his body, soaking in the warmth. I break out in a cold sweat, panicked that I might have forgotten my clinical-strength deodorant. It’s late, I’m tired, and culture shock begins swirling through my body like venom. Just as we find our car, a lizard slithers by my feet, and I jump onto the hood. The look in his eyes says, “Ah, you’ve arrived.”

The first week is a sneak peak into my personal hell: sunburn, heat rash, dripping sweat, three showers a day, dusty winds blowing hot air through the house. Tarantulas, scorpions, geckos, monkeys, and vultures surround our villa, and a few rudely invite themselves inside. Carved into the steep cliffs, the streets are so rough they put the average roller-coaster to shame. My husband thinks it’s heaven.

By the third week, I learn to navigate the potholes and that the geckos that scamper through my bedroom, down the walls, and into our kitchen are really our friends; they eat bugs, I’m told. I try to smile so they don’t realize I am more afraid of them than they are of me, the Giant. I take tree-top tours and natural mud baths and devour juicy ceviche sprinkled with just-picked mango while watching salmon-colored sunsets.

After a month, I finally start to relax. Once, I actually fell asleep on the beach for almost ten minutes. My new challenge is remembering what day of the week it is. (If it weren’t for my pill box, I’d really be lost.) Thankfully, this is the twenty-first century and our villa has Internet access so I’ve been able to keep in touch and even accomplish a few goals. I’ve learned to focus like never before. “Efficient work, efficient relaxation” is my new motto, leaving me more time to spend with my happy husband.

And so we sit on our balcony, enjoying the evening breeze, drinking club soda, suddenly the final week of our stay. My husband is contemplating life. I’m not quite that far down on my To Do list yet, but the good news is, having the perfect marriage means I get to choose the next vacation.  Paris anyone?