Sunday, August 14, 2011

improbable things

I’m not an optimist by nature. I really have to work at it. Because it doesn’t come naturally, I set little rules for myself that remind me in a particular situation not to go with my ingrained pessimism, but to operate from the standpoint that improbable things happen every day.

One of my fast rules is not to give up without trying. There are many things each of us wants every day, we sort them into piles of “unlikely to reach” and “likely to reach” and discard the first pile, pursuing only the second. This works great, as it conserves a lot of energy. We simply don’t put time and effort into things that have little chance of succeeding.

But it also means that we let go of a lot of opportunities that might not be as improbable as we think. Optimists will see most things as “likely to reach.” Pessimists will see most things as “unlikely to reach,” and won’t even try, to avoid wasting time and energy and looking foolish.

I recently went through the self-checkout of a major store chain. I asked for $20 back from the machine as I paid. Then promptly forgot to take my $20. I realized this the next day when I opened my wallet and found only a few quarters rolling around on the bottom. Now, I knew I had about as much chance as a helium balloon at a porcupine family reunion. I knew if I went back to ask if anyone turned in a twenty, the checkout person would think I haven’t taken my pills in the morning.

But a rule is a rule. I will not give up without trying. So I went down to the store and asked the checkout person. Yep, she gave me the look. Then she told me to talk to the Customer Service person. I rehashed my story once again, subjecting myself to even more embarrassment. She told me I had to talk to the manager who would tally up the register for the previous day. If anyone turned in my twenty, they’d have a surplus. An hour later, I got my $20 back. “So someone turned in my $20?” I asked, eyes wide, surprised beyond belief. “No.” The manager laughed. “But I’m going to take your word for it.”

So, obviously, I’m going to be a life-long customer at this store. And my pessimistic tendencies were firmly defeated. The best part was that I had a young, impressionable mind with me. (Who thought I was nuts for trying.) I so hope the outcome would make her think about the importance of trying for improbable things.

So here I am, at a crossroads with my writing. For the first time ever, I published two of my novellas myself: GUARDIAN AGENT and AVENGING AGENT. (Not to panic, I will keep writing for Intrigue for as long as they let me.) I was pessimistic. I know a few things about writing, but not much about publishing. I know even less about promotion. What if nobody found the books? But I plowed ahead anyway, because these were stories I wanted to tell, and I’m not allowed to give up without trying. And thanks to my wonderful readers, GUARDIAN AGENT is #20 on amazon’s bestselling romantic suspense list. The whole experience has been humbling. I look at that list every morning before I start the day’s work, to remind myself that improbable things happen every day.

Try it!