I don’t garden. Not even a little bit. My thumbs are so black they are charred, but even I know weeds in a garden cannot be tolerated. This principle, this image of an overrun garden guides me as I think about my life. More specifically, as I manage my heart.
One definition of husbandry relates to managing plants, crops, gardens. I think of my heart as a garden. You could be tempted to assume this will be a fluffy, pastel Peptol-pink post that sprouts flowers and rots your teeth with its sweetness.
This is not that. This is the opposite of that.
This is about the discipline it takes to live a positive life. A life that is gracious when it wants to be selfish. Kind when it’s tempted to be cruel. Magnanimous when it would rather be small.
I’m relatively new to the writing game, but not to life. I have four decades under my belt now, thank God. I appreciate how every one of those years prepared me for being a published writer. Really, prepared me for a lot, but a few things that specifically translate to this still-new path of professional author.
One of my writer friends recently referred to me as “relentlessly positive.” She had no idea how accurate that statement is. Negativity is a constant temptation that I see people yield to all the time. It takes grit and intention to resist that temptation and to dig out your best and share it with those around you, even when you don’t feel like it.
If the heart is a garden, then we are constantly pulling weeds because we’re human. We are fallible. We are vulnerable to emotions and responses as old as time. To assume we are not, leaves us open for negativity to creep in and leak out. Here are just a few principles that help me remain positive even when the environment around me, when the culture around me, would tug me centrifugally into the negative.
1. “Rejoice with those who rejoice…”
This is actually taken from a passage of scripture. You don’t have to be “religious” to appreciate a good principle, though, right? There are days when I feel discouraged on this path. If you’re a writer, you know how solitary and isolating and sometimes melancholic this journey can be. Days when I ask myself is this really what I’m supposed to be doing? Days when the sales or reviews or whatever barometer of that moment cause me to question my direction. On those days, it can be tough to look to your left or your right and see others flourishing. To see them hitting all cylinders, and it’s those moments that leave the door ajar for one of the nastiest, most stubborn weeds that will literally choke the joy out of this journey.
I know it sounds weird, but I don’t allow myself jealousy. I know what the beginnings of it feel like. I remember giving in to it, but the same way we form habits around our eating, fitness, time – we can form habits of our heart. Jealousy is a weed in this garden, and I will ruthlessly pull it from the root. One of the habits I am constantly cultivating to counter even the beginning of jealousy is celebrating with others.
No matter what.
Even if I feel that twitch, I will celebrate and congratulate and make that person feel the good will. Truly believe that I wish them only the best. And it’s not phony. Not inauthentic. It is following through on the vision I have of who I want to be. I want to be kind, so I don’t wait to feel kind. I am kind. I behave kindly. I want to be gracious, so I don’t wait to feel gracious. I behave graciously. When you want to be strong or fit, you don’t wait to feel strong or fit, you exercise those muscles. An action is required to reach your goal. This is an underused muscle for many of us, but if you exercise it on a consistent basis, you are soon not just celebrating for the sake of this habit. You ARE happy for others. And never is the opportunity more ripe than when someone else succeeds.
3. Push ahead. Pull up.
Promoting others, looking for ways to help others succeed is something I love to do. I don’t know when it shifted from this is something I’ll do because it uproots those weeds, to something I genuinely relish, but it did. When my friends, old and new, have books coming, they know I’m going to be shouting so loudly for them. I sign up for their cover reveals and release day blitzes. I look for ways to leverage any platform I have to promote other writers. I share their good news by twitter, Facebook , Instagram, and carrier pigeon.
I could look at someone more successful and say, they don’t need my help. Who am I? I could look at someone even newer to the game than I am, and think they can’t do anything for me, but I don’t live my life with that agenda-based crap thinking, and I’m certainly not going to manage my career that way. It really isn’t about that. I get so much from this. That habit of my heart that creates a positive force field around me.
Anyone who steps into my orbit long enough knows, if I can help them in any way, I will. Unequivocally. And this next nugget is for free. Positivity is its own reciprocity. I don’t pout when someone I promoted, doesn’t promote me. There is someone I want to be; a condition of my heart that I cultivate that has nothing to do with if the favor is returned. It is its own reward.
4. Your success is just that. Yours.
The success of someone else does not diminish your potential. It does not detract from your possibilities. There are enough readers to go around, and they are constantly looking for the next book to read. Focus less on envying someone else’s hard-won or even got-a-lucky-break success, and more on your path. On being the best you possible. Writing your best book. Doing your best work.
When you truly believe that your success is so much more about how you manage your lane, and so much less about what someone else is doing in theirs, it liberates you to do the first two things I mentioned. You can celebrate when they succeed because your success is this thing completely separate from theirs. You can push someone ahead of you and pull someone who is behind because you’re not afraid they’ll get too far ahead or they will pass you from the back. You have your lane. You have your path. And what is for you, is for you. That is bedrock to celebrating others’ success and to promoting those around you.
Insecurity is a nasty, aggressive weed. It will kill everything healthy that could grow for you. Jerk it out. Spray it with pesticide. Show it no mercy.
5. Not Pollyanna.
My commitment to a positive life could easily be mistaken for naiveté. Don’t confuse positivity with Pollyanaism. I’m not perfect. I might sometimes say something I regret. Do something I regret, but I try hard not to say anything behind someone’s back I don’t feel confident I could say to their faces. When I have a problem with someone, I want to take it up with them, not talk with a lot of others about it.
These are what I call Grown Folks rules. Just basic responsibility for your words and actions that every adult should assume. I know when I have violated one of these rules because I feel it. It feels slimy, and it’s not worth it. I may slip every once in a while, but I try to stick to them, and to surround myself with folks who share that commitment.
I will assume the best about a person until they show me the worst. Once you show me the worst, I believe in forgiveness, because bitterness is a nasty weed, too, that will poison your peace. I forgive other people just as much for my sake as for theirs! And you won’t find me badmouthing folks who have done me wrong, but they probably won’t be in my inner circle. As hard as you fight to keep your own garden clear of weeds, the last thing you want polluting the space around you is someone else’s negative habits and intentions. If you’re not willing to keep your space positive, I’ll like you from a distance. 🙂
These are just a few things I do to manage my garden. I can’t cross over into your yard. Look over your fence and manage yours. I can only tell you what has helped me live a positive life and has made me, in the process, a ruthless gardener.
What are your tricks for staying positive? What do you struggle with the most?
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Kennedy Ryan writes contemporary romance and women's fiction. Her Bennett Series books - When You Are Mine, Loving You Always and the newly released Be Mine Forever - are all available under the "Forever Yours" imprint of Hachette Books. Kennedy always gives her characters their happily ever after, but loves to make them work for it! It's a long road to love, so sit back and enjoy the ride.
In an alternative universe and under her government issue name, Tina Dula, she is a wife to the love of her life, mom to a special, beautiful son, and a friend to those living with autism through her foundation Myles-A-Part., serving Georgia families.
Her writings on Autism have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, and she has been featured on the Montel Williams Show, NPR, Headline News and others. Ryan is donating a portion of her proceeds to her own foundation and to her charitable partner, Talk About Curing Autism (TACA).
Her interview series MOMMIES DO THE MOST AMAZING THINGS is featured each month in Brooke Burke's online magazine Modern Mom.