I kind of hate book reviews, because if you aren’t reading the book, who cares?
Rather than wax poetic, here are three stand-alone ideas from Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander’s 2000 book, The Art of Possibility, that have improved my life since reading it:
The best musicians (and arguably the best anythings) embrace failure as a lesson learned. Rather than beat yourself up about a mistake (or stop trying, or be embarrassed), Benjamin Zander trains his students to throw their hands in the air and loudly say “How fascinating!”.
Because really, in the moment you have made a mistake, there is no going back. The mistake is made. It’s looking at you. So getting mad, embarrassed, or quitting as a result is nonsensical.
This approach sounds silly, but I’ve since done this at least once a week. From a typo in an important email, to spilling a drink all over myself and the car, this reaction trivializes the mistake and makes it more memorable.
Feeling less bad about something you can’t change and remembering not to do it again? That makes me better at everything.
“Don’t take yourself so seriously!”
This is a hard lesson, but a very valuable one. And if I may be a little sexist, I think it’s particularly applicable to high-performing women.
At some times and about some topics, it takes very little to get me riled up and angry — maybe even a little self-righteous. And I used to be able to spend a lot of energy on something like that for very little purpose. It’s just a rage-shower that at best gets some aggression out and at worst damages my relationship with whoever I’m ranting to.
Because here’s the thing: If you try hard enough, any topic can be a really big deal. And man, would it take a lot of energy to be mad about every topic.
But the opposite is true, too: if you chill out, you can see that even really serious things aren’t necessarily that big a deal at the time you’re talking about them.
That doesn’t mean these things are not important, it just means you can save yourself some serious energy by not taking yourself so seriously in that moment. Getting red in the face, allowing your heart rate to increase, and indulging in negative mental spirals won’t solve the problem. Only rational action will solve the problem. So do that more.
In my case, it means that I don’t need to randomly stroke out in a Target because I remembered something important JHubbs forgot to do. (Yes, it happens, and I blame hormones, but it was still me who dunnit). Instead, I need to calmly identify the facts of the situation, remind him of the impending consequences, and ask how I can help him remember the important thing. Beyond that, I need to let it go (of course, this is letting go is also a boundaries problem, which gets its own post).
And this leads up to the final point:
“It’s all invented!”
Much like talking yourself out of being upset about something, just about every rule or habit we live by is completely invented. At some point, the thing did not exist, which means it came into being as an act of imagination, preference, or luck. Which means there’s a scenario in which it is not that big a deal and you can work around it.
This one gets closer to the Hippie Hooey that turns me off, but the kernel of it resonates with me. I’ve talked my way into some pretty amazing opportunities this year, things I never thought could really happen or create a living for me. I’ve negotiated some price cuts and coupons, and I’ve watched my mom and brother do the same for things like rent and services. Most conventions (prices, coupons, arrangements…) are invented, and if you approach them with class, creativity, and compassion, you just might be able to finagle some awesome things.