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You’re the Author of Your Own Life Story

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The following is a true story…for your weekend reading amusement.

A friend asked me late last week, “What are you doing for Valentine’s Day?”

“Oh, I’m going to see the new Rebel Wilson movie.”

She did that pity-head-tilt that is trying to be supportive. “Good for you.”

If there was ever a time for someone to wink at me, it would have been now.

“Well, I’m going on my own.”

“Oooh, maybe you’ll meet someone there!”

“Not sure how many people I’ll meet, alone at the early showing in a dark movie theatre, but I appreciate your optimism.” 

It’s important to have those people who believe in you, thinking that you aren’t the dating and relationship Chernobyl that you are.

Fast forward to V-Day.

The movie theatre here is self-service, and you choose your seat from those available on a screen before you go in. I had ordered a few days before, knowing I’d be getting off a consultation call and jumping into my car to race over and buy delicious-yet-horrible-for-you butter-soaked movie theatre popcorn before the previews had kicked in.

At the time, I was the only person who had purchased a ticket.

Though it was a 4:30pm showing, I figured more people would obviously buy as the day got closer. It’s Valentine’s Day, after all. And this is a movie marketed as the anti-romantic-comedy rom-com. Fun for everyone!

I walked into the theatre, which has (yes, I went and counted just for the accuracy of this story) 142 seats.

141 to choose from with my one selected “unavailable” blue square.

My thought that other people might have bought tickets was very inaccurate.

There were only two other people in the theatre with me — a single dad, with his tween-aged daughter.

Now, here is the part in the story they refer to as a “call-back.”

Remember a few sentences above, when I noted that not only do you have to pre-select your seats before going into the theatre, but that mine was now blued out?

I looked at my ticket, confirmed it was seat G9, and did the quick math to discover the only other two people in the entire theatre had bought the two seats directly beside me.

Yep, on my lovely “just gonna go out and have a nice me-time lounge in a dark theatre watching completely unrealistic love storylines play out on screen while I stuff my face with trans-fats and salts” — this guy had chosen to sit himself RIGHT BESIDE ME.

Now, dear reader, how do you think this story played out?

  • Did I avoid them entirely? Duck past, even though they obviously knew they had chosen to sit by the one lonely-heart in the theatre, and sit three rows behind them to devour my smuggled Reese’s-stuffed heart (oh, I brought that too) in peace?
  • Did I take the advice of my well-meaning friend? Sit down, meet someone new, let the whimsy of a nearly scripted Hollywood meet-cute be start of a new fun adventure?
  • Did I make it weird? Plant down irritatedly in the seat beside them, the three of us together as the only people in a theatre, but never say a word and immediately leave after to avoid post-movie conversation?

Is your mind spinning, with all the beautiful, horrible, hilarious, and/or romantic possibilities?

I’ve had a number of conversations the past couple weeks with readers who signed up for free consultations with me this month who are struggling to come up with ideas.

But let me tell you: coming up with what to write about — what stories to tell — can be as easy as the above.

A simple introduction, a set-up for something to happen…and that’s where the magic happens.

Your mind can spin out. Explore the different possibilities. Run down all the potential scenarios. Let your imagination tumble, let your curiosity roam. In this moment, the world is your oyster and nothing is wrong.

Write them all out, even in short-hand scribbles. Give them a chance in your outline. See what feels right.

Let down your walls and see what happens.

Reality and fact-checking are what happen in editing.

Any of those situations could have played out, but only one did.

Which one, you ask?

Well, since we’re all the authors of our own life story, some chapters are still being written. 

Ooooo…a cliffhanger!

Do You Have an Origin Story?

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“I’ve decided that Doctor Strange is my favourite Marvel character. Would you like me to present my argument?”

Yes, those are the random text messages I send to my friends.

And now, since you opened this article, I shall present the abbreviated explanation to you.

Previously, I’ve been a Black Widow fan. Possibly because she was the only female member of the cinematic Marvel universe for the first half-decade of the franchise, not that there weren’t tons of other female characters to work in. (PS — for anyone who wants to fight me with canon, both Janet “The Wasp” Van Dyne and Scarlet Witch technically should have been included before Black Widow, if we are pulling directly from the origin story of The Avengers. #TheMoreYouKnow)

Anyway, I’ve been a Black Widow fan for a while, through to about 2016.

Because that is when the movie for Doctor Strange came out.

I was familiar with his character, given my familiarity (as previously referenced) with the original comics.

But something about the 2016 movie really cemented it for me.

Yes, of course, Benedict Cumberbatch is Doctor Strange — and let’s be honest, even though he doesn’t use it in the movie, we all know I’m a sucker for a tall lanky Brit with a molasses-dripping accent.

For me, the fascination with Doctor Strange is more than that.

Though they don’t touch on it much in the movies to date (I’m guessing that most of the world hasn’t read up for hours on end in the comics and narratives of the origin stories for these characters), Black Widow has superpowers that no one realizes.

Similar to Captain America (though not cryogenically frozen), Black Widow has been biotechnologically enhanced. Meaning that though they have no natural superpowers (they aren’t Norse gods or magically-endowed mutants or exposed to dangerous levels of radioactive materials), they have been pumped up full of serums and toxins that heighten their innate skills.

There are lots of characters in The Avengers (all the iterations and membership rosters) that have these superpowers, when you consider spider bites and zillionaire-bankrolled-magnetic-supersuits.

You don’t generally become a superhero without having some super-human skill or ability.

Enter Doctor Stephen Strange.

Sure, he starts with some more-than-the-average human talents, paired with an eidetic (photographic) memory and stupid amounts of surgeon wealth. 

After his accident, he exhausts all that money and his steady mastery of medical acumen, so he has nothing.

Which is what brings him to Kamar-Taj in the Himalayas, to be healed by The Ancient One.

He doesn’t know exactly how this will happen, because he has attempted to use every ounce of his money, knowledge, experience, and connections to heal himself. Nothing works.

It is in Kamar-Taj that he discovers that there is nothing that can be healed from his accident. He will always be injured — broken — damaged.

But in Kamar-Taj, no knowledge is forbidden. 

And if Doctor Stephen Strange has any superhuman skill, it is his voracious appetite for learning and ability to execute on what he now knows.

He eventually becomes a master of the magical world that he has learned about, with a few mystical items that have either pledged their allegiance or of which he has also mastered, including one of the Big Bang’s Infinity Stones.

So…getting back to my original point (after I’ve given you a super TL;DR breakdown of Doctor Strange’s timeline): this is why he is my favorite Marvel character.

He wasn’t bestowed with any superpowers or genetically enhanced — he had to master them all.

While he still has flaws, he is the least swayed Marvel character, devoted to the mystic arts that gave him a life and purpose again.

Similar to The Hulk, Doctor Strange is one of the more self-aware, as he came into his superhero skills because he was already damaged. 

The Hulk’s secret is that he’s able to transform because he’s always angry, and Strange’s secret is that he will always be injured.

Unless he chooses to focus all of his mastery of the mystic arts on himself.

Yet through the hero’s journey that his origin story follows, he has mastered not only the world to which he ventured but his own world to which he has returned (going right back to “the scene of the crime,” protector of The Sanctum Sanctorum in New York City).

Doctor Strange is not only one of the most self-actualized of the Marvel characters, but also his skills are superpowers that are actually attainable to anyone who would be open and curious enough to master them.

Plus, he’s really strange. 

And let’s be real, a really strange character is always going to be one of my favourites.

In any universe.

Being a Human (Brand)

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Have you ever gotten a compliment that made you grin from ear to ear, but many people might not realize means so much to you?

Last year, someone paid me such a compliment in a recommendation letter I had asked them to write for an upcoming project.

Asking someone to write a recommendation letter is a huge vomit moment itself – What if they say no? What if they won’t put their name behind your work? What if they can’t think of anything good to write about you, so they ask you to write it yourself? 

Then, one day you see their name pop up in your inbox, with an attachment.

The recommendation letter.

An outside validation, waiting for you to pour over, no less than 36 times.

Sometimes they are broad and general, a template copied from a “How to write a recommendation letter” search on Google, with your name inserted.

I was fortunate, that most of mine brought tears to my eyes.

One particular included this: “After our conversation, I connected with Elisa personally, and I realized that who she is online is exactly who she is in person. That’s both wonderful and more rare than you’d think!”

It might sound silly and simple, but these two sentences are now easily in the Top 25 nice things people have ever said about me.

In this industry, writing and online, there are a lot of frauds and charlatons. Those are probably some of the kinder words I can use to describe them. This isn’t about them, though. Eyes on our own papers and all.

I’m not a saint, or even a good entrepreneur and freelancer some days. I’ve screwed things up in ways I didn’t think I’d ever be able to bounce back from.

But I’ve always tried to be genuine in all my messages and interactions. 

Sometimes to my own detriment (more often than you’d think!)

So to have an extremely prominent and internationally known person in my industry not only recognize this, but call it out to the nominations panel, it felt great.

It wasn’t necessarily about my expertise or business acumen or many of the markers of success that I see so many other people chase. That might be part of what made it so special to me.

It made me feel seen, in a way that I value, but seems to be under-valued more and more.

A passing compliment, that will stick with me for a long time to come.

Sharing Rejections

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Last week, writer and Buzzfeed’s AM to DM host Saeed Jones (The Ferocity) began a conversation on Twitter by sharing a quick note of his many rejections from Breadloaf, the annual writer’s conference at Middlebury College.

He’s since gone on to write and curate content for Buzzfeed, host their live video program, and author two books, the latest on Simon & Schuster’s forthcoming roster.

In his tweet, he asked folks to share their own rejections, hoping to crowdsource some good examples of rejection failure — and subsequent successes:

rejections

Let’s just say there are a lot of people out there who have been rejected. A lot. And they’re all sharing their experiences (you can see them by checking out the hashtag #ShareYourRejections, or the hashtag #ShareYourRejection for people who can’t follow directions!)

I’m loving the updates; there are some big names there, opening up about some seriously harsh rejection they’ve experienced in life. It’s a great reminder that when you start putting yourself out there, you will probably experience rejection.

Whether it is professional or personal (ugh, who among us hasn’t worked up the gumption to finally ask someone out or admit our feelings to that special person, only to have the object of our affections decline our interest), rejection is hard. And scary. And often seems like a good enough reason to not even try, or to give up.

Now, I’ve gotta be honest with you. The hashtag is a bit of the Survivorship Bias that runs rampant among successful folks. Which makes me cringe, even though I love getting inspired reading all those messages.

Those who say “Yes, I struggled before, but I was able to work through it and overcome” are sometimes outliers.

I don’t want to tell you that every article you write will be accepted somewhere. That every book you toil away at will pick up a six-figure publishing contract. That every business idea will be the business idea that makes you a millionaire.

There’s no way to guarantee that if you keep chipping away at something, it will eventually land. Sometimes rejection doesn’t lead to success…it just leads to rejection.

The secret is in learning from the rejection, figuring out what you need to adjust for next time (and actually doing it), and deciding whether you dare to take a chance on it happening again.

I hope you do.

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