I’m often asked if the things that happened to Jana Lanning in my recent novel, Anywhere But Here, actually happened to me. For those of you that haven’t read this novel, Jana Lanning, the protagonist, is denied admission to graduate school, finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her, helps her best friend get married and move out of town, and has to settle for a job that she’s overqualified for – and all of this happens within two weeks of getting her undergraduate degree. Then to make things worse, the office where she works starts a merger with another firm and Jana finds herself on the wrong end of office politics that are the final straw in her battle with depression. The thing people seem the most interested in are the office politics. People want to know if the happenings at Dixon Financial are reflective of my job before it was transferred to a new agency a couple of years ago.
In response to that I’d say not entirely, but I can’t deny that some things that happened to me early in my career are reflected in people and events that take place in the book. I know that’s cryptic, but bear in mind two things: The people and events are fictionalized and that was accomplished through a mixture of my personal experiences, experiences I’ve seen and heard of from other people, and instances I’ve read about in books, magazines, news and other media. It came from a vast pool and I’ll admit that I had experience with being on the wrong end of office politics – heck, how could you write about it even from a fictionalized perspective unless you lived it in some way – but it’s also a universal issue that anybody working in an office environment is going to be on one end or the other of. And sorry folks, but there are probably going to be times when you find yourself on the wrong side, at least from the perspective of the majority.
My purpose in both writing Anywhere But Here and this entry isn’t to bash my former workplace. These things happened a decade ago, and I must admit that I said and did things that weren’t wise and didn’t lead to the best resolution in the situations I faced. I certainly learned from those experiences and in retrospect, I’m glad I learned those lessons early in life or I certainlywouldn’t be where I am now. The purpose is to share lessons learned, because this is something that I believe everybody in the workforce faces at some time. It makes you feel isolated and lonely when it happens, but the truth is that you aren’t alone. Lots of people face it but few talk about it because frankly, it’s embarrassing.
I used to think that people playing office politics were selfish jerks that like to hurt people, but experience has shown me that it actually grows from a root of fear. People that play with power are insecure and doubt their own ability, so they create an elaborate game of turning people and things to their advantage. I’ve found that there are 2 good ways to identify a person that is likely to use power to their advantage:
1.They cling tightly to cliques that are made up of people that are higher on the chain of command than they are; and
2.They don’t associate with anybody on the chain of command below them unless it’s absolutely necessary - and those people better give them what they want immediately or it’s insubordination.
It’s the people in category #2 that usually find themselves on the losing end of office politics because any wrong word or deed will be met with fierce retaliation. I won’t say that I never see office politics anymore, but I have found that I find myself in these situations a lot less since I’ve been reclassified to a mid-level position. I’d like to think this is because I’ve proven that my knowledge and abilities are valuable, but it’s more likely that I learned valuable lessons on how to deal with these types from previous experience – and people know it.
So what’s the secret to dealing when you’re the victim of office politics? If you’re right, stand by that. Don’t ever cave in and take the quick and easy way out because that’s a temporary end. If they’d turn on you once, they’ll turn on you again. Caving in only shows that you can be taken advantage of, and they will milk that dry, plus the consequences of doing wrong will follow you a lot longer than standing up for what’s right. They might not like you, but they’ll respect you and at least know not to let you catch them with their hand in the cookie jar again. If you aren’t right, correct yourself immediately and stick to your guns in walking down the right road. And whichever situation you’re in, it’s imperative that you have patience. Truth will show itself in time and it will be end game then. It might take months or even years for things to come around, but they will and you’ll be better off for it. The reward will come in patient endurance, and it will be something that nobody can deny. Sure, there are people that are so stubborn that they’ll refuse to change their mind no matter what happens, but don’t worry about them. Leave them in their ignorance and move on because it’s highly probably that they’ll be gone in time themselves.
I believe Jana Lanning in Anywhere But Here is a good personification of office politics gone wrong, because she’s the one in the weakest position. She didn’t do anything wrong and in fact suffered for doing right, but recent personal losses kept her from taking a stand in the right way and the right timing. The people that create these situations are masters at turning things against you even if you didn’t do anything wrong, and it’s exhausting to constantly defend your own character. Unfortunately, she found this out too late and suffered the consequences of crossing the wrong people simply by being who she was and not deferring to people doing things wrong. She was right and had proof of it, but she didn’t know how to present that truth in a combative work environment. That happens sometimes, and it’s awful. I think the worst offence in the world is to have to suffer for other peoples’ mistakes, and office politics are the ultimate example of that.
I think this is why eople tell me that they find Jana Lanning so likeable. She’s a good person that doesn’t deserve the hard knocks that come her way from people taking advantage of her shy nature, youth, and inexperience. She makes the same mistakes that all of us made in our early adulthood and we understand her confusion at why life is kicking her around. Reality is a hard teacher, and it’s the only one that can do the job once school leaves off. Remember the movie “St. Elmo’s Fire” from the 80’s? That strange, new world opening up is the exact thing that Jana faces, and we understand exactly where she’s coming from. She, like the rest of us, has to learn to find those gems of opportunity in the rubble of defeat to rebuild a new life from shattered dreams. In some ways, we may even relate to her right where we’re at, because life is always teaching us lessons.
So no, I didn’t start out in life exactly like Jana did. I actually did marry my college sweetheart, but I never made it to graduate school because I found other things that I believed were worth more in my life than higher education. I never struggled with depression, but I knew (and still know) many who do battle that demon, and I hope Jana’s struggle helps people with depression understand that this is a battle they can win if they stay in the fight. But yes, I did go through an office merger in my early years in the workforce, and I found myself prey to the power plays, albeit in much different circumstances. All I can say is that wisdom comes from experience, and I gained plenty in those few years.
And lest you think it’s impossible for poor Jana to face so much at one time, I call your bluff. Too much smashing my life to bits was the catalyst for my next novel, Splinter – but that’s one for a future blog entry. I’ll address it closer to the release date in mid 2013. Until then, enjoy Anywhere But Here and my other books - information on them and links to buy are on the other tabs of this website. I hope you find entertainment and inspiration in them.
That’s all today.
I entered a counted cross stitch in the State Fair in October 2009. It was my largest stitching project and, I thought, a masterpiece of creativity. Unfortunately, the judges didn't agree. I didn't win a ribbon.
I was heartbroken. This piece took nearly three and a half years to complete, and I felt it was my best work. But under the scrutnizing eye of others, it didn't measure up.
Family and friends consoled me and urged me to keep at it. Don't give up, they said, because eventually you'll win. As I considered the situation, though, I started to realize some things. That project had been very time consuming and difficult for me to complete; to the point that it became frustrating in the end. In fact, part of the reason why it took me so long to finish the project was because I put it on hiatus for a period of 7 months while I wrote Blurry. I realized that looking over that period of time, the hobby that brought me the most contentment wasn't the cross stitch, but writing the novel. It made me ask myself what I really wanted to see bear fruit in my life, and the answer, without a hitch, was my writing. So the next time a friend encouraged me to start a new stitching project, I finally admitted a truth that I should have faced sooner. "You know," I said, "I realize now that stitching is an arena for others. Writing is mine, and I need to return to it."
That wasn't well received. A lot of people assumed I was quitting and saw it as a bad sign and completely out of character for me. What they didn't know was that an idea for another novel was developing. Soon after, I began work on Anywhere But Here, a novel about a young woman battling depression in the face of major life transitions. I made it my mission after that failed contest to grow and develop as a writer, and it paid off. Blurry was published by Wings ePress in August 2011; Anywhere But Here will be published by Whiskey Creek Press in April 2012, and I recently completed Splinter, a sci-fi apocolyptic novel that I successfully completed a rough draft of during 2010 National Novel Writing Month.
I could have given you a monologue about mining your talents and finding your passions, but I felt that relating this experience would be a better demonstration of the process of using your interests and experiences to find authenticity and purpose. All of us have a number of talents, skills and abilities with potential for development, but our time and energy are limited. There simply isn't enough time in a day, week, month, year, season or lifetime to do it all. You have to set priorities by making active decisions on what you want to see bear fruit in your life and investing in those purposes. Prayer, of course, is the best way to do this, because it helps us to look within and be absolutely honest with God and ourselves about what's best for life.
Another point I hope you take from this is that finding authenticity and purpose is a journey. I didn't wake up one day and say "I'm putting stitching on a back burner while I focus on writing more material and learning how to get published and promoted." It was trying and failing, assessing myself and learning from mistakes, making realizations and trying again. It's a process of trial and error, and you will certainly make mistakes. Don't look on it as wasted time, though. The missteps and mistakes can be mined for wisdom that leads to success in future endeavors. I knew that hard work was the key to progress, but this experience also taught me the importance of focus. I saw the true meaning of "a jack of all trades is a master at none" and realized that I needed to pick what meant the most and zoom in on that as my primary goal.
Above and beyond all else, I hope you see the importance of being true to yourself. Others can mean the best and still be wrong. You are the only one that has to live with yourself and your life 100% of the time. The path will only be revealed to you, and there are many steps in that path that won't make a bit of sense to others. That's ok. The ones that are meant to share the journey will learn to accept you for what you were created to be. The others will fall away. Simple as that.
As a final note, I'd like to mention that I haven't completely given up cross stitching, but I'm limiting my projects to very small scale items. That's more practical for my current lifestyle. Maybe one day I'll tackle another large project, but for now my focus is on becoming a better writer. And to me, that's what really matters.
Next time: Standing Alone - Staying Strong Under Attack.
I wanted to let you know that there have been other things going on in life besides the book contracts. Yes, life marches on no matter what's going on. Here's an update:
The first bit of news isn't good, I fear. You know that we lost a friend at church to cancer a couple of weeks ago and in fact, it was nearly a year to the day after I lost a coworker to the same kind of cancer. Well, we found out that a third friend that's battling cancer has taken a drastic downhill turn. Her's is lung cancer and well, it's spread to her brain and they've given her 3-6 weeks. We're absolutely floored, because for a while she was actually improving and the tumors were shrinking. Or so we were told. Turns out, she wasn't being completely honest with any of us about her true condition. We believe it's because she wasn't being completely honest with herself. There's been speculation that she didn't fully comprehend the severity of her situation.
I don't even know what to say at this interlude. I've seen two people die and now it looks like a third heading down the same road. To say that I'm tired of seeing good people suffer seems to be a pretty obvious point. But one thing they've all had in common was that they have fought to the very end. So the point, it seems to me, is that every battle isn't won - but you fight nonetheless. Because if you don't fight, hope is gone and you're dead already (spiritually, anyway). But as long as you fight, there's hope whether the battle ends in victory or defeat.
That may or may not make sense but a second thing I've learned does, and that's how important it is to live. There are too many people satisfied with accepting mediocrity and bad things in their life, and if there's one thing I've seen in these three ladies, it's that this isn't how we're supposed to live. While we live, this is OUR WORLD. We need to live life to the fullest: To take advantage of every opportunity, enjoy everything we can, defeat what discourages or holds us back, and just get out there and DO STUFF.
So there you have it. My take on death and dying these days. And by the way, the reaper can quit touching people I know anytime and that will be a-ok.
Moving on ...
I think my cold is clearing up. Thank God, too, because I really didn't want to go on antibiotics. I don't like them.
The roses are doing very well, which is pretty amazing given the soaring heat around here. Then again, we water them every day.
I finally took off the purple nail polish and have replaced it with pink. I have some meetings coming up, and I figured going conventional would throw people off. But don't worry. The purple polish will be back.
Here's one you may or may not believe. Last week, the principal at the school where they found Ollie a year ago had the nerve to ask for him back. Can you believe that? And she didn't even remember his name, just said she wanted the bird back. Rick said no. While she forgot Ollie for the past year we have loved him, housed him, fed him, and otherwise spoiled him. This is his home. She's bought an iPad and a 50 inch TV. I think she can spring $20.00 for her own darn bird.
I'm finding that I understand baseball a bit better this year. But those players are so skinny. Do they feed them? Rick says they probably sweat it off playing in this terrible heat.
My parents just celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. Congratulations! And so you'll know, my brother is 41 and I'm 35.
My mother-in-law told Rick she'd like to get to know me better. Um, we've been married 13 years. A bit late on the uptake, don't you think? And gee, look at the timing of that one too. The day after I sign a second book contract. I will let this one go without further comment.
Ok, that's all the fun happening in my corner of the galaxy. I hope you're doing well and that the new week is a good one.