Letting Go of Anger


Letting-GoThe fine art of “letting go”—Buddhists call it detachment—has been one of my guiding principles since my early 40’s, when I spent a year crossing the Pacific Ocean on a small sailboat.

That was the year that I learned, in a visceral rather than intellectual way, that letting go is what you have to do if you hope to live in the moment.  A quest to find familiar foods—McDonalds and whole wheat bread—in Pacific Island communities could only hamper your discovery of such local delights as pamplemousse, guava, conch fritters, and ceviche.  Setting expectations—e.g. planning to arrive in Tahiti on a specific date and time—when you couldn’t control the weather or the currents was a sure-fire way to miss the sensual beauty of a day at sea … the dawn light creeping across the fluid surface of the sea, the porpoises who cavorted in our bow wake.

But letting go of these sorts of things has been easy for me compared to letting go of anger. Anger at a mother who neglected you. Anger at a spouse or friend who betrayed or demeaned you. Anger at the boss who passed you over for a promotion you deserved. Anger at anyone who violates your trust, who diminishes your self-esteem, who makes you question your self-worth.

I was reminded of this as I read a recent blog entitled, aptly enough, “Letting Go,” in which the author, Danielle, offered some practical tips for getting rid of anger.  Herewith, some tips of hers and some of mine.

  • Recognize that we all live in our own reality.

My mother was a case in point. She never intended to hurt her children, but she was so crippled by her own fear of being hurt that she had no emotional reserves to draw upon for the care of children. As she did with adults, she rejected me before I could even imagine rejecting her; she punished me for my inability to anticipate what she wanted. Somehow, my efforts to please her always failed.  I could never be the child she wanted.

Depression—anger turned inwards—plagued me until I was in my 40s, when I finally recognized that I had been an unfortunate bystander in her own personal tragedy … that it wasn’t “my fault” and I wasn’t a failure.  Only then could I begin to let go of my anger at her. Only then could I begin to live my own life instead of the life I thought she wanted me to live.

  • Recognize that anger is often a response to “old tapes.”

Letting go of my anger at my mother did not, unfortunately, erase 40 years of painful emotions or the automatic behaviors I had used to cope with her rejection. Over the ensuing decades, I have managed to break most of those old habits, but there are still times when something sets an old tape to running. A paralyzing anger is the default response.

As complementary personalities, my partner Kent and I occasionally set off old tapes.  Fortunately, we understand each other’s foibles and can usually recognize the pattern in time to head off an angry response. Even when we fall prey to the old tapes, though, we can usually figure it out within a few minutes and let the anger go.

It is not always so with friends, even some I know very well. I recognize the hurt … I feel the anger … but it can take days or weeks or months for me to understand how much of my anger is rooted in something that happened 50 or 60 years ago.

  • Recognize that we often impose a higher standard of behavior on others than we do on ourselves.

We all make mistakes.  Sometimes our intentions are good, but we just plain get it wrong.  Sometimes, we’re too busy and self-absorbed to see what’s needed. And then, of course, there are times that we do the wrong thing because we’re still playing out those old tapes of our own.

One of the benefits of maturity is the ability, when we make a mistake, to forgive ourselves, to move on even as we vow to do better the next time.  Too often, however, we do not offer the same generosity of spirit to those around us, responding in anger when someone we trust does something that is hurtful.

For example, I expect Kent to understand and be forgiving when I make a mistake that wounds him, but when he slips up in a way that is hurtful, my instinctive response is often anger alongside a quick march to the moral high ground. I need to take a deep breath and remind myself that he is terribly—and wonderfully—human.

  • Recognize that the need to claim the high ground is another name for being a victim.

I have long believed that most things in life—including what other people say or do to us or about us—are fundamentally outside our control.

From this perspective, holding on to anger gives up the one form of control we do have—the ability to choose our response to what happens around us. Holding on to anger allows someone else to control your identity, to define you in terms of their actions rather than yours, to further diminish your sense of self-worth.

In a recent blog on The Confidence Gap, I observed that whenever something diminishes your confidence level, inaction erodes your confidence further, while positive action serves to rebuild it.  Holding on to anger is a form of passivity and inaction.

Letting go of anger represents an active decision to take control over your own life.

How does residual anger left from old tapes affect your life and relationships?

Where Metaphor Meets Life


              One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose                                                                                  sight of the shore for a very long time — André Gide


SJ #1I’ve been perennially in search of new lands—a metaphor for new ideas and new perspectives—since childhood. I’ve often had to lose sight of the metaphorical shore in order to find them.

Ironically, the most dramatic change in my perspective came when I had lost sight of the literal shore, a day when I was roughly a thousand miles out into the Pacific Ocean, heading west along an unmarked route. That day, my husband and I were two years into a planned circumnavigation of the world in a 37-foot sailboat, a journey that required me to abandon a successful New York career.

Throughout our cruise, we’d often had to trim our sails to unpredictable winds and set our rudder to compensate for erratic currents. We sailed as close to our intended course as we could, but all too often, we ended the day someplace other than where we’d set out to go. As good sailors on a well-fitted sailboat, not much could go very wrong, but we knew that if something did, we would probably die. Life and death were pretty much out of our hands.

That watershed day, a sunny afternoon with clear skies and calm seas, it struck me that sailing was a metaphor for life. I suddenly understood that I’d had no more control over my life and death when I lived and worked in New York City than I did while sailing on the Pacific Ocean. And it seemed obvious that if I couldn’t control my fate, I might as well spend my days doing something meaningful and satisfying, rather than wasting precious time and energy trying—all too often in vain—to meet the expectations of others.

It seemed equally obvious that if I hadn’t decided to sail away from the metaphorical as well as the geographic shore, I’d still be living under the illusion that I could actually control my life.

It is this last concept—that you grow the most when you step outside your comfort zone—that has been the leitmotif of my life as an author. My memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam starts with my decision to step out of my comfort zone from a professional and cultural perspective. It ends as I begin a new, more purposeful way of life that has sustained me for a quarter of a century.

But few people have the option of quitting their jobs and heading off into the sunset. I wanted to write a novel about “every woman,” to explore the growth that can take place even if you never leave home.  Just as sailing was a metaphor for a life out of control, “A Fitting Place” is a metaphor for learning how the pieces of one’s life fit together.

In A Fitting Place, Lindsey Chandler is hurtled out of her psychological comfort zone by the betrayal of those she most trusts. Her journey to emotional maturity finally begins when she begins to re-examine her entire value system, including loyalty, marriage and gender roles.

How has stepping out of your comfort changed your life?



A Fitting Place

My blog today is adapted from a piece I wrote for “Plain and Fancy,” Marian Beaman’s delightful website on the challenges and opportunities of a life that started in a Mennonite community and took her to a wide-ranging career in academia, with a stint as a neighborhood activist.

I will continue to blog on other aspects of universal human relationships in the weeks to come. I welcome guest contributors whose own experiences offer another perspective.

If you’d like to contribute, please contact me at https://marycgottschalk.com/contact/



Buy a paperback copy of A Fitting Place                       Buy A Fitting Place for Kindle 


Redefining Success


My blog this week is reprinted from “Live, Write, Thrive,” the website of Susanne Lakin, a West Coast novelist, copyeditor, and writing coach.  Her comments on the author’s effort to stay sane while trying to generate book sales offer a wonderful perspective on the broader human question of how each of us defines success.


Photo Credit: Lakbay 7107 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Lakbay 7107 via Compfight cc

Have you ever asked: “What on earth possessed me to want to be a novelist?” Are you starting to realize this journey of being an author is not a short sprint but a marathon—and often a grueling one at that?

When you hear of the numbers of novels submitted to agents and publishers each year (in the six figures), you sometimes think winning the lottery offers better odds than getting traditionally published. But then . . . you finally break through and get a contract, and months later are holding your brand-new brilliant release in your hand, feeling like you’ve finally arrived.

Not Even Fifteen Minutes of Fame . . .

Yet . . . if you’re like me, the flashbulb moment of that exhilaration lasts a very short time, only to turn into something akin to another stark, depressing realization—that the odds your book will become a huge hit or best seller is . . . well, about the same odds as winning the lottery, and you’re back to the same place (or almost the same place emotionally) as you were when you first starting sending out your first queries to agents.

I don’t mean to dive right into depressing statistics and start you into a tumble toward negativity. Quite the opposite. When considering that the novelist’s life is more a marathon than a sprint, I thought of the one thing that we all really need to focus on to keep going in this writing life, and that’s a fresh attitude.

The Desire for Success Can Wear You Down

In the twenty-eight years of my publishing journey, I’ve seen some authors who I would call plenty successful—with many wonderful published novels under their belt, having won some awards and getting great acclaim—suffer from continual disappointment, frustration, and even despair over their writing career. While I waited for my first “breakthrough” novel to go to press, I had foreboding nigglings in the back of my mind, telling me that would never happen to me. I would be on the NY Times best-seller list out the gate!

Yet, four published books later, I found myself crying for a week at the completion of my latest novel. Why? Because I knew it was the masterpiece and apex of my writing life and ability, and I knew the book would never sell big and get the acclaim I felt it deserved. Why? Because it was wholly imaginative, original, untraditional, and broke “all the rules.” I knew that I was risking much by writing the book pressing upon my heart, yet even a couple of years later, I don’t regret a second that I spent writing that novel. I wouldn’t change a word.

A Challenge to You to Change the Picture

So, where is all this whining and negativity leading to? I spent a long year stepping back and evaluating the writing life. And I would like to challenge you to stop and think a bit about your goals, dreams, hopes, and beliefs.

We have been programmed to believe many things that, I feel, contribute to our disappointments, frustrations, and feelings of failure as writers. I believe it’s time to redefine, truly and in our hearts, what success means and looks like to us. Rather than give you a list of practical things your can do like blogging, tweeting, scheduling your time better, and improving your writing craft, I’d like you to think about making this your primary goal for this day, this month, this year: to have a fresh, new attitude about your writing journey.

These are the truths I am learning to embrace, and I hope you will post these and think about them often:

  • Success is not defined by numbers or money earned. Instead of trying to be successful by worldly standards, think about significance. How can you deepen your writing and reach out to readers in a significant way? Believe that what you have to say through your words is significant and important. And put the care and attention into your writing that you and it deserves.
  • You are not writing to please the masses. You may never please the masses. And writing to please yourself is not the goal either. We write for an audience, and know the kind of hearts we want to touch. Write, then, for that audience in all sincerity and passion, and trust that from that place your voice will ring out.
  • Don’t validate yourself based on others’ opinions of you or your writing. Accept helpful criticism and critiques and keep improving your craft, but know you will never please everyone and it’s foolish to try. In my former writers’ group we used to applaud loudly when an author got her first scathing review. It’s a badge of arrival.
  • Find a few really supportive writer friends to be on this journey with you. Encourage one another, promote one another, critique for one another. One way to stop focusing on your own sense of failure is to help others. I find great joy in helping my editing clients get agents and publishing contracts, and their success brightens my day. There is nothing wholesome in jealousy, envy, or a competitive spirit. Believe your audience is out there waiting for your books and write for them. There will always be terrible writers enjoying incredible success with terrible books. It’s easy to want to throw your hands in the air and say “I give up!” when you see the awful stuff getting praised as great writing. Right, it’s not fair. Now, get over it. Really. If you don’t, it will drive you nuts. I tell this to myself a lot!
  • Know that traditional publishing is undergoing radical changes. This is actually great news for authors, for now, with the trend of ebook publishing and social networking and marketing, any good author can get known, grow a true fan base, and connect with readers who love her books. And that’s what we need remember—that we are writing for that connection between writer and reader. The future never looked so bright to be able to accomplish these things.

So take heart and a deep breath and think about redefining success with a fresh attitude—one of optimism, enthusiasm, and a renewed dedication to write the best novels you can, knowing that your readers are out there and in time you will find them—and they will find you. To me, that is the only way to stay sane.

Any thoughts on keeping your sanity by the way you define success? How do you define success?

Redefining Success - Susanne LakinIn addition to being a novelist, copyeditor, and writing coach, Susanne Lake is a mom, a backpacker, and a whole bunch of other things that she loves to write about.

Based in San Francisco, she teaches workshops on the writing craft at writers’ conferences and retreats. She also enjoys guest blogging, and would be delighted to do a post on writing and editing.  To read Susanne’s blogs or make a request for teaching or guest blogs, click here.

Susanne is also on Facebook and Twitter

Stuck Inside Myself

stuck insideMy guest blogger last week used those words—“stuck inside myself”—to describe her spiritual malaise, her inability to “remain calm and at peace” in the face of the bothersome details of every day life.

I too have always found mindfulness hard to come by.  But living in the moment has been particularly challenging during the past year, as I labored on the final stages of my first novel, A Fitting Place.  Reading Joan’s essay, it occurred to me that I was stuck inside myself because I had allowed my life to take a wrong turn.

Don’t get me wrong. I gloried in the hours I spent writing my novel.  I loved doing the research that added complexity and depth to my characters. I delighted in watching my protagonist Lindsey Chandler mature, often changing in ways I had not anticipated, and changed me as I watched. I relished the many hours of insightful discussion with my writing partner Carol Bodensteiner as she worked on her novel, Go Away Home.

But as I transitioned from writing to publishing and marketing, I seemed to get more and more stuck inside myself. I resented the seemingly endless hours I spent on social media, garnering information about titles and book blurbs and covers and printing options and, of course, marketing strategies. All of it was information I needed, but I did not find it interesting.  I grew grumpier with every passing day.

My stuck-ness got worse once my focus shifted full-time to marketing.  The ever-growing list of tasks made it almost impossible to enjoy riding a bike or reading a book—assuming I actually got on a bike or picked up a book. The fact is I hated doing virtually every task on that marketing list, and was well on the way to hating pretty much every routine task I had to do, no matter what the purpose.

My distaste for marketing goes back a long way, to age 7, when I was the only one in my troupe who failed to sell her quota of Girl Scout cookies. I hated asking strangers to do something for me.

That pattern followed me throughout my career in finance.  I have strong analytical skills and can explain complex ideas in simple terms.  My career moved forward because someone saw first-hand what I could do, and was willing to open doors on my behalf.  I rarely had to send out resumes, and never got so much as an interview when I did; indeed, only once in my life did I have to provide a resume before my first day on the job.

What I realized as I read Joan’s essay, was that in the last year I’ve gone from a life filled with something I love—writing—to spending my days doing something I hate.  I was reminded of the bit of banal but nonetheless good advice that I give to the MBA class I teach each spring: You are more likely to be satisfied and successful if you focus on doing what you love and what you’re good at.

For me, marketing a novel fails on both counts.

I don’t like the idea of being a quitter, particularly after spending six years on a novel I believe to be of interest in a world still battling gender stereotypes.  I love the emails and letters from readers who experience a “shiver of recognition” as they follow Lindsey on her emotional and psychological journey.  But sometimes being a quitter is exactly what you need to do.  I don’t want to spend these precious years doing something that I don’t like doing—and don’t have to do—just to prove a point.

I want to live in the moment.

What choices do you need to make in order to live in the moment, to not be stuck inside yourself?


A Fitting PlaceMindfulness is one of the key themes in my novel, and I continue to blog on other aspects of universal human relationships in the weeks to come. I welcome guest contributors whose own experiences offer another perspective.

If you’d like to contribute, please contact me at https://marycgottschalk.com/contact/



Buy a paperback copy of A Fitting Place                       Buy A Fitting Place for Kindle