My wife had just discovered a kinesthetic test you could take to determine if you were being honest or dishonest with yourself. You hold your arm out straight from the side of your body, and someone asks you a question while pushing down gently on the arm. If you answer honestly, your arm easily resists the downward pressure and remains firm; if you’re dishonest, you lose your strength, and the other person is able to push the arm down.
It sounded like fun so we decided to give it a try. I held my arm out and my wife asked me how old I was. “Thirty-four,” I said truthfully. She pushed, and my arm stayed straight as a T. She told me to lie, and she asked me my name. “Filmore McFadden,” I answered. Down went the arm.
It worked! We tried a few more, asking about whether I liked being a dad (yes) and if I liked writing (also yes). Then she surprised me. “Do you want to publish the novel you just finished?”
My arm went down.
“What the hell?” I said.
“Interesting,” she said. “What do you think of that?”
“I think it’s bullshit, is what I think.”
Except I suspected it wasn’t bullshit, which confused me. Why wouldn’t I want to publish the novel I’d spent two years writing? Why wouldn’t I want to quit waiting tables? Well, it was just silly test. It stayed on my mind, however, and ten years later I had written another book that my agent had sent out to a half-dozen publishers. I heard from her on a Friday that the first house had passed. I was confident about this book’s chances, but hearing that one editor had rejected it I felt an old familiar gloom.
That was when I remembered the kinesthetic test. So, I asked myself a simple question. “Bill, do you want someone to buy it?”
Right away a felt a “No,” in my heart. This time, however, I didn’t call it bullshit. I had been writing personal essays for years, and I had learned how to ask myself questions like, “Why did I do that?” or, “Why did I feel that way?” and answer honestly. I knew my answer in this instance was true and a lie at the same time. So, I continued my interrogation.
“Why not?” I asked myself.
“Because I don’t want to sell it,” I thought. “I have to sell it. I have to know I’m successful, to know I’m acceptable, to know I did it. I don’t want to have to do anything. I don’t want to prove myself. So, I don’t want to sell it.”
This was true. I only want to do things I enjoy, that are fun. That’s the only reason I ever want to do anything. So, I asked myself a different question. “What would be fun about selling the book?” I decided to just think about the next step, rather than the actual publication which was a few steps away. I had sold a few pieces to magazines and newspapers, and I’d enjoyed working with their editors, collaborating on improving my pieces.
I’d enjoy that, I thought. I’d love to work with someone on the book, and to have a team of people working with me, designing a cover and marketing it. That would be fun.
That Monday my agent called and said a publisher was interested. They bought the book two weeks later.
I cannot prove that what I thought on Friday was connected to the call on Monday, but I was glad I took myself through that friendly interrogation. I don’t believe in what we call luck anymore. I also don’t believe in “hard work”.
Either I’m in my own way, or I’m not. When I’m in my own way, when I’ve quietly created rules I myself want to break, life feels like a maze forever bringing me back to the same empty space. But when I get out of my own way, life simplifies dramatically, as simple as knowing the difference between what is fun and what is not.