A watched mailbox never boils

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How not to look at your Gmail inbox like it's significance porn.

We all grew up with them. We all cocked our heads to one side, puzzled at their meanings while grayer heads nodded with knowing understanding. Older, wiser relatives tossing out “pearls of wisdom” into our tiny swine ears:

“A bird in the hand is with two in the bush.”
“Measure twice, cut once.”
“Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

Kent Barrett, Flickr, Creative Commons, <a target='_blank' href='http://bit.ly/1RD9Stn'>http://bit.ly/1RD9Stn</a>
Kent Barrett, Flickr, Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/1RD9Stn

One saying I took far too literally was, “A watched pot never boils.” On the rare occasion I would help out in my family of origin kitchen, I learned to look away from the pot of water, soup, or gruel. Only with my eyes averted would the liquid bubble up to the necessary 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Had I defied the rule, I would still be standing there, 40 years later, holding 16 oz. of thin spaghetti over the un-boiling water.

I didn’t appreciate the full meaning of the phrase until I was much older. Not only would this “life law” challenge the physical properties of matter on a stove (a pasta dish in only four decades!), it threatened to turn this level-headed thinker into a superstitious slave.

All of life is a perverse waiting game—the tepid waters of waiting for things to heat up into a desired change. Did I make the team…band…play…cheerleading squad? Did I get the job? Does he like me? Will I ever get married? Am I pregnant? Did I book the role? Was I selected as a writing finalist?

Nearing the end of this time of transition, Len and I find ourselves checking the pot with great frequency. We continue to add ingredients--blog posts, magazine essays, a novel, screenplays, freelance writing assignments, and resumes--to the stew. Then we break the rule. We stand at the mailbox/inbox waiting to see if something bubbles up. Anything yet? What about now? Surely now?! (I think I passed myself on the way to the mailbox yesterday.)

If I learned nothing else from my acting pursuits--while auditioning hundreds of times…and not hearing anything hundreds of times--it’s this: Move on. Keep working. Continue adding new things to the mix. At worst, you won't be staring at your Gmail account like it’s “significance porn.” At best, you will be continuing to create a body of work and keeping your mind off of the non-responses to your other work. Eventually, something will hit.

Not to burst anyone's bubble, but there is no such thing as an “overnight success.” You were simply not present for the freak show portion of the lives of the ultimate high achievers. Each did time, lots and lots of time, waiting for their pots to boil.

Elvis Presley was fired by the Grand Ole Opry and advised to go back to driving trucks. Jerry Seinfeld was booed off of the stage at his first attempt at stand-up. Thomas Edison tried and failed 1,000 times before landing on the correct material to light up our world. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. I love his description of the journey to his boiling point. ”I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

I'm with Michael. I don’t like to think of these days of trying to cook up something good as worthless--I'm merely tweaking the recipe. Each experience is an opportunity to learn and hone skills.

If at any given moment you have several offerings you have tossed out into the universe awaiting the “yes!" of success or the “no" of a botched attempt, don't lose heart. Turn up the heat. Keep moving. You know what they say...

"A rolling stone gathers no moss."  

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