Harper Lee, “Second Novel Syndrome,” and Situational Perfectionism

Harper Lee, author of the immortal To Kill a Mockingbird, died last week at 89. She never published another book except for Go Set a Watchman, which was published in 2015 in what many consider to be dubious circumstances. Lee may have suffered from second-novel syndrome, a form of procrastination in which an author becomes self-conscious due to the public attention she receives for her first book, and is consequently inhibited from publishing her second. I don't know whether she wanted to keep publishing or not, but she did tell one interviewer: “I was hoping for a quick and merciful death [of Mockingbird] at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I sort of hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement....I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected.” If she did suffer from second-novel syndrome, she wasn't alone. Ralph Ellison … [Read more...]

Meet Compassionate Objectivity, The Antidote to Guilt

“I should succeed at this job despite the fact that we're severely under-resourced and my boss is chronically disorganized. If I don't, I’m a loser.” “If I don’t sacrifice everything to my kids, I'm a terrible parent.” "If I don’t get my hour of exercise in every single day, I'm just a lazy slob.” “If my book doesn't sell well, I must be a crappy writer.” You've probably experienced the above or similar thoughts at different times. No matter what the project, or how well we've done, it seems like we can always do a better job. And yet, guilt and shame won't help you be more productive—in fact, they are far more likely to rob you of confidence and motivation. People who continually berate themselves for not having done “more and better” need to consider whether that behavior is actually productive. The truth is that we all have limits on our time, money, energy, and other resources; also, that we all need to devote a big chunk of them to our own needs. Another truth is that life is pretty hard. … [Read more...]

How to Measure Your 2013 Successes so as to have a Happier, More Productive 2014 (Part I)

As you evaluate your progress over the past year--or as your family attempts to evaluates it for you--one thing to keep in mind is that perfectionism often confuses success with failure. It basically recognizes just one kind of success, where you: (a) finish a monumental project, (b) do a spectacular job at it, and (c) win abundant praise and material rewards for it. Everything else is either (at best) not worth noting, or (at worst) a heinous failure. However, there are many more types of success, including: When you start a new project When you restart a lapsed project When you make progress on a project Most of our successes are, in fact, these kinds of "process successes." They can seem small or even trivial, especially when compared with the monumental successes we all hope for: that's okay, because when you look at your work through a process lens it becomes clear that there really is no such thing as a big success: only strings of tiny ones. Tolstoy didn't write War and Peace: he … [Read more...]