Monday, April 28, 2014

Why I Don't Want You to Read My Book

Today, one of my closest friends in the whole wide world asked to see some of what I’ve written. I was surprised (slightly) by my reaction: I didn’t want to let her.

That may sound really silly because, here I am, throwing caution to the wind and spending ALL of my time writing this book that will hopefully (please God I beg you…) be published one day and that STRANGERS will be able to read if they just pay a few bucks for it.

So why didn’t I want my dearest, darlingest friend — whom I will divulge all of my deepest, darkest secrets to — to read a few pages of my book?

Because it’s vulnerable.

I’m scared to let people read my work because it feels like I’m ripping out a chunk of my heart and handing it over to you. And I’m not even being overdramatic here (OK, maybe a little bit…)

But here’s the thing: what if she HATES it? And then she has to say something to me…right? Or else she has to lie about it. That’s awkward.

I’ve realized that I’m desperately afraid of failure. I’m afraid that my family, my friends, my peers will all think that I’ve failed if my book doesn’t get published or if it’s not a “success” (whatever that means!) Almost on a daily basis, I hear people telling me about how difficult it is to get published or how hard of an industry this is to break into, etcetera etcetera. My own insecurities, along with people’s doom-saying, combine to form (in my mind) a book-eating monster with my favorite characters dangling from its teeth.

So this is what, out of sheer necessity, I’ve decided: I’m not going to let my insecurities or the possibility of failure hold me back from doing something I’m passionate about. So what if it’s a hard industry to break into? I’ll just try harder.

More than failure, I fear that I will back away from my dreams because I’m not willing to be rejected. It’s just a reality that at some point, all of us will fall on our faces or someone will tell us that we’re not good enough. But hopefully that will push us to be better.

When I entered into my graduate writing program at the University of Tampa, I had never had my work critiqued by anyone aside from my closest family members (i.e., Tyler, mom and dad. That’s it.) Needless to say, I was pretty intimidated. To top it all off, my assigned mentor was born and raised in the former Soviet Union, which was the setting of my novel (at the time). When it came time for my workshop critique, I was (quite literally) shaking in my boots. And you know what happened? The worst. He picked apart every single little thing in my writing. What I had written was completely unrealistic and he didn’t hold back.

My UT MFA workshop group in January

At the end of his critique, he said, “You’ve got two options: you can become an expert in Soviet history and write this story from a completely accurate perspective OR you can create your own fictional world where you can write about the same themes and characters but you won’t have to stick to the historical facts.”

This might sound surprising, but I felt liberated. I had faced — and lived through — the worst possible scenario in my mind. (Alright, there was one situation I envisioned where he ripped up my manuscript and told me that it was disgraceful that I was permitted entrance to the program. But aside from that…)

This situation pushed me to be a better writer. And my hope and prayer is that whatever obstacles come up in my writing journey, that I will face them with determination and courage. I know that at some point I will “fail” in some way, shape or form. But I’m resolved to NOT fail in one way: I will not let the fear of failure keep me from pursuing my passion of writing.

What’s a fear that you have faced that you have either overcome or are still struggling to overcome? Feel free to share with me in the comments!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

How to Get Out: A Story of "The Stalemate"

by Tyler Chacon

Chess is a great game. It is the ultimate strategy game where luck is virtually nonexistent. This is because in chess the player controls all the variables, unlike in games such as Monopoly or Risk. The latter games take a lot of skill, but there is still so much that is dependent on the roll of the dice. Or even worse there are games such as the card game “War” or Phase 10 that have absolutely no skill about them whatsoever and you might as well sit around with a group of people and draw numbers out of a hat and see who gets the highest one.  Because of the nature of chess, the superior chess player will win a match against a less skilled opponent almost every time, unlike in the aforementioned games where it would be possible for a 5-year-old to beat Albert Einstein.

 In chess the object of the game is take your opponent’s king. There is sometimes a point at the end of the game where your king is the only piece you have available to move and yet there is not a single space left that you can move it to without it being taken on the next turn, yet the space where the king currently resides is safe, it is unthreatened and could survive if it were allowed to remain. If this happens it is called a stalemate. Neither player wins; it is a tie. Even if the other player has all his/her pieces remaining, it is a tie.

Tying is better than losing, it hurts less. Obviously winning is considerably more ideal than either option but tying is the next best situation. Often times in life I think people are more content with tying than they are going for the win, and potentially risking a loss. This can happen in what we are calling “the stalemate”.

I know this place well because I have been here. Our generation is encountering an interesting problem that is more magnified than it has ever been before: too many choices. Ever been to a restaurant that has a menu over 10 pages long and hundreds of choices? If you are anything like me, you read every one of those choices and weigh the pros and cons like you’re deciding the fate of the world. How good will this taste? What kind of quantity are we talking here? How many calories are in this? And the list goes on forever. With a few exceptions, show me a restaurant with too many options and I’ll show you one that lacks identity, specializes in nothing — is medium at everything and is going nowhere. That is why places that specialize (think: Chick-fil-A or Chipotle) have dominated the market — they do one thing and they do it well. This conundrum is known as the Paradox of Choice. The idea that too many choices creates an environment of anxiety that leads to regret. You could argue that this paradox could be used to explain why the global divorce rate of arranged marriages is around 4% where as we all know the American divorce rate is around 50%. Something to think about.

About a year ago I wasn’t sure what or who I wanted to be. I looked at my interests and passions and pondered how I could be successful and eventually support a family. I considered multiple avenues: ministry, coaching, sports psychology, finance, law, the list goes on. In all honesty it was quite overwhelming. After a while it was much easier to just not think about the future and focus on daily things. Somewhere in the middle of this frozen-like state I received some great advice: just go after one option wholeheartedly and see if it fits. Don’t just stare from a distance — every failure will bring you closer to what you are meant to do. Keep doing things that are moving you forward. I decided to take this advice, get up and start going for the win instead of settling for the tie.

First thing I had to do was come to grips with the nagging guilt of the ministry. I love God. I love his church and helping people. I worked for a big campus ministry. I am a talented public speaker and my father is in the ministry. The cards were there to go in the ministry but something about it didn’t feel right. I felt like I was on the path to ministry because it seemed that that was what I should be doing. In my mind it was somehow a greater good to be in ministry. As if I would have a better chance of going to heaven or God would be “more” proud of me if I decided to be paid by the church for my profession. It took a lot of spiritual people to convince me out of my performance-oriented thinking. It took a lot of prayer and faith to realize that God’s love is not based on performance and he would not want me to be in the ministry because of guilt. Certainly being godly has nothing to do with receiving a paycheck from the contribution plate.

After being set free from my own mind I began to pursue other things. I enrolled in a graduate-level sports psychology class (even though some people at UF told me I wasn’t allowed to — I found others who said I could). I read the book chapter by chapter, got to know the professor and explored what I could do with a master’s in sports psychology. Turns out I really loved the material but the only jobs in the field seemed to be more academic in nature and the applied side (which I was more interested in) was limited. So I scratched the idea.

Tyler & Tiffany Chacon
I thought about being a lawyer...until I realized it was too much technical reading, which would make me pull my hair out before what will inevitably be my premature balding. I talked to people about coaching — they assured me I would move too much and die early of stress.

Finally I got an opportunity to intern at my mom’s financial services company. One of the partners, Guillermo, interviewed me. During the interview, I thought, what would I have to say to not be accepted as an intern into a firm that has 3 partners and one of them is my mom? Man I’d really have to blow it. Guillermo proceeded to ask me crazy interview questions like “How many footballs are currently in the air in America?” Apparently he just wanted to hear my thought process. Either that or realized he could just mess with me and there wasn’t much I could do about it.

As the months passed I read multiple books on economics that were assigned to me. I was eating them up. Maybe I have a knack for this? Could business be the route for me? I am an organized, logical thinker that can convince people of most things — maybe this is it. By the end of the internship I felt a renewed sense of ambition. I wanted to go into business.

I knew that I needed a broader understanding of the nuances of business so I decided to get a master’s in business administration. I began studying for the GRE. I had to relearn things like geometry and algebra, which I had purposely put into a place in my brain where I put things that I don’t plan on ever seeing again. After studying for a month or so I took the test and applied to the University of Tampa.

As it turns out, I was able to get a great recommendation letter from my sports psychology professor and was accepted into the program. I have been in the program for a year now and I love it. My public speaking, a skill I learned from working in the ministry and leading many Bible discussions, has led to great success in presenting group projects.  It is challenging but exciting. Just recently, I was able to secure the highest-paying internship offered at my university.
I say these things in no way to puff myself up but rather to inspire those caught in the stalemate, paralyzed by too many decisions. Instead of staying still, move forward. God will use the missteps and failures and carry you to a place you never expected.

I agree with the idea of following your passions and dreams but I believe in it with this caveat: Follow the dreams and passions that you are actually good at. I have a passion for football. I have played it my whole life, I am better at it than most people, I know it well. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m 5’10, white and have smaller hands than my wife. I’m simply not good enough to be a D1 athlete or a professional of any sort. I accept this and, while I will always play for fun, I am not delusional enough to think I am going to play for the NFL. So how do you know if you’re “good enough” to pursue a passion? It’s quite simple — someone will pay you to do it. I’m all for people becoming artists and musicians but if no one is buying your work or listening to your CDs, pick something else. Maybe you’re not 6'5" and 250 lbs of shredded muscle -- that's OK, neither am I.

After many, many months of searching for a career path, I am getting my Masters of Business Administration with a specialization in entrepreneurship. I still do not know exactly what I will do when I graduate. But I do know that I am no longer afraid to fail.

Next: Resources for Getting Out of "The Stalemate"

5 Resources for Getting Out of "The Stalemate"'re in the stalemate and you want to get out. Here are some (potentially) helpful ideas:

1. Take a career personality test.
    This is certainly not a magic genie or anything like that, but it can show you your strengths/skills in order to point you in the right direction. Here’s one site that I’ve used, but you can just Google “career personality test” and go from there:

2. Ask your close friends and family
    This is kind of like a career personality test of your own. Asking your friends and family what they think your skills are or what might be a good career for you is a solid place to start. Now, I don’t advise building your whole life around your grandfather’s dreams for you…but it could give you a little insight into yourself.

3. Check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook
    My brothers Joey and Daniel know what I’m talking about. Every time we’re talking about anything career-related, my dad pulls out the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Seriously. Well, apparently it’s online now and you can check out every single type of job that’s out there as well as that job’s “outlook” — growth potential, salary, the degree(s) you might need, etc.

4. Check out the degrees offered at your local college/university
    Tyler and I did this when we were trying to figure out what we wanted to study for graduate school. We went onto the degree offerings at UF, USF, UT and a few other schools and just went down the list, writing down anything that jumped out at us. Then, we would look into what that degree offered, job potentials, etc.

5. Get a job
    This sounds kind of lame, but I’m serious. I’m a big believer in moving forward in order to find your place. It’s kind of like the Maps app on the iPhone — it can’t tell what direction you’re going in unless you’re moving forward. So even if you work at a job that you hate…at least you can cross one thing off of your list! And you might just pick up one or two handy skills along the way. When I graduated from undergrad at UF, I started working at a company that sold vitamins. I did event marketing for them and I HATED it. But I also learned a lot about marketing, PR, social media and events. These are helpful skills for any job that I have in the future. No experience is a wasted experience, as long as you’re learning about yourself and developing along the way.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dream Jobs: Where Do You Land?

I’m currently in a stage of life along with many of my peers where we’re trying to figure out what we want to do with the rest of our lives.

In general, I would say that we fit into three categories:

1. The Stalemate

These are the people who have sort of “stalled” because they either don’t know what they want to do with their lives OR they have been discouraged from pursuing their “dream” job, and so they’re essentially hanging around until…someone gives them permission to pursue a particular path.

Oftentimes, this is where we find ourselves because we’ve been given SO many choices that it actually paralyzes us rather than enables us. It’s like being at restaurant where they have a 20-page menu. No matter what you choose, you always feel like maybe you would have been happier if you had just chosen…

You get the point.

2. The Responsible Ones

These are the people who are in careers that are not their “dream” jobs, but they’re doing well and making money and maybe they’re happy.

Sometimes, the responsible ones are silently miserable, doing their duties and not sure where to turn.

Other times, the responsible ones are working in their not-so-dreamy jobs but are using these jobs as a platform for doing what they really want to be doing. For example, perhaps you don’t really care for your job, but it does allow you to travel a lot. Or it pays the bills so that you can have a band on the side.

3. The Dreamers

And then there are those people who are pursuing their “dream” jobs. These are the people who may be working in a field that is not within their dream field, but their spare time is spent playing at every gig they can find, or filming and editing videos or researching graduate programs, etc. Or maybe they left their home state and moved to New York City, where they meet every single doorman at every single theatre so that they can get a stage managing job (shout out, Kristi Hess!)

What’s interesting to me, is that a lot of times this minority of people are the ones that are scoffed at, ridiculed and discouraged from their dreams. I’m not 100% sure why that is, but I have a few theories: one is that we have a certain list of “acceptable” dream jobs (doctor, nurse, lawyer, dentist, actuary (?!) and so on) and if your job does not fit on that list, we don’t know what to do with you. The second is that we are jealous. We want to be free to pursue our dream job, but we’re not. So we’ll take it out on you. I have to confess that I have been guilty of these things.

Now, these are ALL over-generalizations. Most of my friends/peers do not fit nicely into these three categories and most of society does not fit into my two-part list/jealousy theory. Like I said, it’s a theory.

In this blog over the next few days (or weeks, however long it takes) I’m going to be writing about something that is very close to my heart: pursuing your passion. I have been in all three stages that I listed: I have certainly been in the stalemate. I have attempted to be the responsible one. And now I am trying to be a part of that third group of people. For better or for worse, I'm putting all of my “eggs” in one proverbial basket.

I want to be a writer.

There, I said it. (How very audacious of me!) And now, I’m doing something about it. I'm very, very far from having figured this whole thing out (and I probably never will "arrive", whatever that means) but I hope that you will join me on this journey and that you will share with me your own struggles and triumphs for finding and pursuing YOUR passion.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Why I Never Got an Easter Basket

Growing up, I had friends whose parents would go all-out for Easter. They would have baskets filled to the brim with neon-colored plastic grass (what’s the deal with that stuff, anyway?!) and overflowing with candy and other “Easter” goodies. One friend had a parent who would put glittered rabbit footsteps all over the house, leading them on a scavenger hunt for their Easter baskets. Even in college, I had friends who would receive gobs of candy from their parents in Easter basket care packages.

I never got one of those.

Now, before you go calling a therapist for me about my neglected childhood, let me stop you. I’m glad I never got an Easter basket, and here’s why: that’s not what Easter is about.

I don’t feel deprived in the least just because my mom never made me a cake shaped like a bunny rabbit. In fact, I feel like I owe my parents a great deal because they made Easter about what it’s supposed to be about: Jesus, willingly giving his life for me and then, by the power of God and the power of Jesus’ sinless life, he was raised from the dead so that I could have a relationship with God.

So, maybe when we have kids one day (hopefully not too soon!) we’ll do scavenger hunts and candy baskets for Easter. Or…maybe we won’t. But one thing is for sure: we will definitely tell them about their incredible God who loves them enough to sacrifice his Son for them.

What do you guys think about the whole Easter basket thing? Did your parents make them for you and/or, if you’re a parent, do you make them for your kids? Why or why not?

Happy Resurrection Sunday, ya’ll :)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Disney's "Frozen": 3 Reasons Why it Resonates with Us

Recently, it seems like 1 out of every 10 posts on Facebook are about the Disney movie “Frozen”.

There’s toddlers and their mothers singing renditions of “Let it Go” or Jimmy Fallon and Idina Menzel singing the song with classroom instruments. There are all sorts of personality quizzes to see which “Frozen” character you are (One quiz said I was “Pabbie”, the Troll King. So I took another one. I’m Elsa.) Or, there’s people who are just now seeing the movie who are saying something along the lines of “it just didn’t quite live up to the hype” (I’m not sure what movie could live up to all of the “hype” that Frozen has received!)

Despite your reaction to the movie, whether you think it lived up to the hype or not, I think it’s safe to say that there’s something about the movie that resonates with each of us for the following reasons:

1. The sibling-connection: Most of us growing up in the U.S. are not “only” children. We have siblings. And that means we fight with our siblings. We get annoyed with them. We have a hard time sharing. We have snowball fights. And sometimes, we isolate them.

My brothers and me: Daniel (on the left) and Joey (on the right).
This is after I got engaged :)

Although the older sister in the movie, Elsa, was not exactly the sweet, darling older sister she should have been, I can relate with her. Now, I think I have a great relationship with my brothers. They are two of my very best friends in the entire world. I LOVE being around them. But it wasn’t always that way. I remember when I was a teenager and my middle brother Joey was a preteen, he always wanted to hang out with my friends and me. It annoyed me. I tried to leave him out. Sometimes I was downright mean to him when he was just trying to be included. And now, more than ten years later, I still feel terrible about it! I wish that I had just let him watch that movie with us or sit on our trampoline and talk with us (I’m not really sure why we always sat on the trampoline…it was just the thing we did.)

But here’s the bottom line: I relate with the struggling Elsa. And probably, Joey relates with the shut-out Anna. So we rejoice when, at the end of the movie (spoiler alert!) Anna sacrifices herself for Elsa, who does not deserve it. But Anna loves Elsa, and deep-down, Elsa loves Anna. And sometimes that sibling love is just as strong as the bonds of true love (because it IS true love!) It’s beautiful.

2. It makes fun of “love at first sight.” Which is a relief. Because our generation grew up believing wholeheartedly in nothing BUT love at first sight. Which is Disney’s fault. Mostly.

I was grateful when Sven gave Anna a hard time for getting engaged to someone she had just met. It’s as if Disney is telling our generation of princess-wannabes to not take ourselves too seriously.

Because the truth is, even if you fall in love at first sight, it might not (and, let’s be honest, it probably won’t) last. Love is not just some fluffy feeling you get when you hear Aladdin singing about some magic carpet ride (that honestly sounds a little sketchy, now that I think about it!)

Love is hard work. It takes commitment, dedication and action. I love the verse in 1 John 3:18 where it says “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” THAT is love. Not some silly Disney song we grew up singing.

3. We WANT to “let it go.” We’ve just been waiting around for someone to tell us (or, sing to us!) to let it GO. Let go of what people think of us. Let go of all the unspoken expectations we put on ourselves. Let go of bad habits, addictions, unhealthy relationships….Just LET. IT. GO.

I’ve got a lot more on this topic, but we’ll save it for another day ;)

So, thank you, Disney, for repenting and giving us a story that truly resonates with each and every one of us — regardless of whether or not we have fallen in love (unless of course you’re an only child AND you’ve never been in love…then, I guess you’re kind of left out. Sorry.)

I hope that in my own writing, I can build stories that truly resonate with people in different stages of their lives. I obviously want to write a love story that can people fall in love with, but I also want to write about family relationships and friendships that people can identify with. I want my characters to be people that you can laugh at, cry with and relate to.

What are some stories that have resonated with you, and why? Have you ever re-read a story and found that  you connected with a different character than you originally did? Please share :)

For your viewing pleasure:

P.S. - Joey, I’m so sorry for leaving you out. I’ll never do it again.

Joey and me rockin' super sweet ski outfits

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Another Word for Writing: REWRITING

One of the things that I am discovering is that the more I write, the more I have to REwrite. I love this quote from Donald Murray, I think he perfectly encapsulates why we have to rewrite: to make our ideas and thoughts clear to other people. Sometimes I wish that I just had some sort of magical recorder in my head that could translate my book ideas into words on my computer automatically. But alas, I do not. And I have to write them myself. And therefore I have to rewrite. Constantly.

One of my favorite writing quotes is from Stephen King. He said to "write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open." Sometimes this is harder than it seems and sometimes I get it backwards -- I tend to want to write with the door open, to try to take into consideration what everyone thinks or feels about what I'm writing, etc. But this doesn't really work and what I end up writing is convoluted and not quite "me". Other times, when it's time for rewrites, I don't want anyone to read my (horrendous) first draft and I end up not getting any outside perspectives. Both of these tendencies are a mistake.

First of all, I have to be willing to let go of my need to impress others with my writing. Guy Kawasaki said, "Authors who write to impress people have difficulty remaining true to themselves." My goal in my writing is to write for ME, not for my potential audience or my friends or my professors or anyone else. If I do not write for the love of it, I will lose myself in the worst possible way.

My second tragic tendency is to not want to get input from people, for fear that I will fail ("fail" being an ambiguous term in my mind). While it is important to not allow myself to become a sort of writer that just wants to please everyone, it's also important to get input. Anne Rice has said that "to write something you have to be willing to make a fool of yourself." And part of making a fool of myself is being willing to allow others to read what I have written, regardless of my fears or insecurities.

Recently, I gave my husband about 50 pages of my manuscript when he went on a long plane trip. On the way back, he gave it to my father-in-law to read. I was mortified. I wasn't ready for someone other than my husband to read my manuscript. But my father-in-law gave me such great feedback -- no, it wasn't all positive, but it was constructive and he has made my manuscript better because of it. This situation taught me that I need to let myself open up to other people's criticisms. Sure, I don't have to listen to ALL of their criticisms, but it is a helpful practice that I think will push me to be a better writer.

For all of the writers out there, what is your "rewriting" practice? Do you let only certain people read your rough drafts or are you pretty free with your work?

I'll end with one last quote:

I think this is true for everyone -- regardless of whether you are striving to live a "creative life" or not. I am making every effort to be less afraid of being wrong and more excited about living my life to the fullest.

For those interested, here's my Pinterest board filled with writing quotes:

Cheers :)