Breaking It Down
The first part of the process of getting what you want out of any experience is figuring out what it is that you want. As I mentioned last week, we often mistake the map for the territory; we think “I want to be a competitive tango dancer!” when what we actually want is to be connected with a partner. Or applause. Or fancy shoes.
I like to think of this process as a dissection; we are taking that Defining Moment that we imagined and we are tearing it apart, looking at it qualitatively. Now, let’s be honest: things don’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s entirely possible that it’s the “fancy shoes + applause” that’s making our hearts go pitter-pat.
That’s ok; we’ll deal with that later. Meanwhile, I’ll open up the vulnerability box and put in my own “Defining Moment.”
I imagine walking into a bookstore, just for fun, ready to browse and pick up a book or two that might catch my fancy. Like any author, I subtly move to the vicinity of the shelves where my book is on display. I see a young woman walk up to the display and smile as she sees my book, picking it up and eagerly reading the back blurb. She holds it close as she walks towards the checkout, right past me, not knowing who I am.
That’s it. As fantasies go, it’s not all that complicated. The task now is to separate the parts that are meaningful and look at their components and implications.
Playing Sherlock With Your Dreams
In some ways you need to become the dream-version of Sherlock Holmes, paying attention to details and extrapolating from them while at the same time noticing what is not there. It might help to interview yourself, or have a friend help out:
Gray, I notice you don’t specify where the bookstore is. Does that matter? Do you picture a certain city?
It doesn’t really matter. It is a large bookstore, though, like B&N.
I see. You also mention “on display”. I take it you’re picturing a stand-alone display?
Yes, with fancy artwork and shiny covers and maybe a NYT Book Review quote in a big red star…
So it seems that you don’t want to be published, you need to have some pretty notable success.
Yes. I suppose in my mind “notoriety” is a component of success.
Notoriety, but not celebrity; you didn’t have the young woman recognize you.
No, I don’t want the hassle of dealing with everyday recognition. I want her to like my work, not me.
You imagined a young woman. Are you looking for some kind of romantic fangirl?
No, the gender and age are not important to me; I think I’ve just seen more young women in bookstores. It’s the act of seeing someone I don’t know grabbing my book and being happy about it, that’s what I like.
…and so on. Take some time to really examine all the details and question them. Our brains like stories – they like them a lot – and so when we’re imagining our Defining Moments they can tend to include details that aren’t really all that important. The purpose of the interview is to work out the bits that really resonate on a deep level and ignore the parts you don’t really need to focus on.
Look at the Larger Picture
Sometimes there are implications that can be construed from bits and pieces of your Defining Moment that might not at first be obvious. Take that first line: I imagine walking into a bookstore, just for fun, ready to browse and pick up a book or two that might catch my fancy.
- This implies free time to just wander around a bookstore.
- This implies disposable income to spend on books that I might find.
- I didn’t mention going into the bookstore with anyone else; possibly I’m anti-social, but it’s more likely that it expresses a desire for solitude mixed in with the kinds of socializing I already have.
We have economic and social parameters that weren’t really stated but which can be construed. It’s important not to just assume them, however; questioning them is enough. I know that those three elements are, in fact, important because I’ve done the self-reflection. In the same way, I know that I didn’t imagine a young woman picking up the book because I wanted to date her; putting in any other demographic keeps the Moment just as happy for me.
It’s actually a really fun exercise. One young man in my class expressed his Defining Moment as being part of some ritualistic sacrifice where the fate of the universe hung in the balance, something out of Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom. Upon dissection, he realized that the only part of the whole imagined moment that really resonated for him was the chanting multitudes. Another person in a class pictured herself mountain climbing, clinging to a rock face, rappelling down glaciers and such. The more she examined the feelings and motivations, the more she found that what really appealed to her was the swinging around in the air – something she’d not been able to do since she’d outgrown her childhood swingset.
If you haven’t figured out your Defining Moment, I challenge you to do so, and to take it apart and figure out what makes it tick. It is yours, after all; don’t you think you owe it to yourself to understand it?