When You’re Smiling….

My dear old Dad was a scientist during what some call “The Golden Age of Academic Science,” meaning When It Was Easy to Get Funding and—if you published—Tenure. This period started off with the post-WWII industrial boom, continued on during the relative prosperity of the sixties, and probably didn’t really end until the eighties. Science was very, very good to Herr Doktor Professor Burrowes, Ph.D., allowing him to raise seven children and offer every one of them a shot at an affordable college education.

Himself was not best pleased when I decided I wanted to major in music. “The arts are subjective,” said he. “You can be very, very dedicated to what you do, and find some critic takes you into dislike. You’re popular one day, and you’re accused of losing your edge the next. Go into the sciences, and good, solid, hard work will always be rewarded.”

He has a point, or half of one.

Any creative endeavor—throwing pots, raising a child, arranging flowers, drafting a report, writing a book—has an element of subjectivity on the part of people perceiving the results. A pretty pot to me might be a disgraceful waste of clay and glaze to you.

For me, this is one of the hardest aspects of publishing commercial fiction. A lot of people may like what I write, but the people who don’t like what I write loom large in my awareness as well. I don’t want to disappoint or offend anybody, much less take their money and then have them feel that way.

What I can do to minimize the occasion of disappointment in my works is represent them as accurately and consistently as possible: I write historical romances with steamy scenes and happy endings, and my prose is generally not simple. I try not to pop out with any surprises, but rather, to be the same author for each story, though perhaps a more skilled version of that author with each book. In publishing parlance, I try to stay true to my brand.

And yet, my best is not going to be good enough for some people. I haven’t figured out how to make my peace with this reality, but I realized one thing: My father, somewhere around age eighty, lost his funding. After decades of doing good work for the National Institutes of Health and other organizations, after making significant contributions to what’s known about the chemistry of milk and other foods, Dr. Burrowes’ projects no longer made the cut.

The grant officers continued to approve his requests—the work was creditable and meaningful—but the projects were not ranked high enough on the priority ladder to receive funding.

Guess what? Even in the hallowed, rational realm of academic science, an element of subjectivity creeps in. While I’m sorry my dad’s work had to be cut back, the idea that there is not freedom from subjectivity even among highly educated and rational scientists was a relief.

And yet…. When I’m found wanting, it hurts and I don’t like it. So I’m asking you: How do you move past those times in life when you’re judged not good, or not good enough? When you’re passed over for the promotion, damned with faint praise, and otherwise given an opportunity to doubt your own competence,

One commenter below gets a signed copy of the Grace Burrowes book of his or her choice, and yes, you can choose a copy of “Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal,” though it might take a few weeks to pop one in the mail.

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30 comments on “When You’re Smiling….

  1. I really don’t like to be ‘wrong’. I do not take well to ‘constructive criticism’, as good as it might be for me and my soul. I try, but I really don’t like it. Not even after nearly 60 years of practicing. Prior to that point, I believe I was blissfully oblivious. My personal favorite for getting by is to ‘consider the source’ of the comment, action, or whatever. When I got a ‘B’ in grad school…. obviously if the other classes were all ‘A’ – it couldn’t have really been me, it had to have been the professor. If my action was approved by 14 principals, and ONE (always the SAME one) objected…. then it had to be him. That, and I tend to be pretty firm in my convictions, and willing to let others voice their opinions, while holding firm to the belief that I don’t have to accept what is said. Finally, I think I am realistic. When someone else is chosen, say as a supervisor, I have a little self-talk, and if the best person for the job has been chosen then so be it. I will keep moving forward, and folks will come to see what I am, and I can do. I really think we have to shape ourselves from the inside out, knowing our own value, and not let who we are be dictated by how we think others perceive us.

    • A-men, sista. I tell myself over and over again: I write because I love to write. That doesn’t change with the occasional meh review, or with fluctuations in sales figures…. unless I let it change.

  2. I was passed over alot growing up(especially by my mother as never good enough in her eyes) My grandmother(who raised me) told me as long as I have done my best and I am pleased with my effort that is all that you need. If someone is not pleased with your effort (your mother included) they are more than welcome to go somewhere else. It is something I try hard to remember.

  3. How do I move on? Well, I usually let myself feel sorry for myself for a bit, and then I tell myself that I am only human, I did my best and that is all I can really do. I mean, it still hurts but you can’t please everyone.

    • I like the part about taking a minute to validate the low feelings. They’re real, and they don’t go away if you ignore them utterly, though neither do I think one ought to wallow forever.

  4. As an actress (and a writer) like you said, public opinion and subjectivity come with the territory. I don’t know if it is ever easy, but take what you find useful and leave the rest, as in life, if you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one – least of all yourself! That is always easier for me to say than follow through on 😉

    Though Maggie’s story is my favorite cover yet, please don’t enter me in the contest, karma forbids me to be greedy 🙂

  5. Ah, the very thing I’ve been fighting most of this school year. The idea, nay, the belief of elected officials that they can take the subjectivity out of teacher evaluations. The great State of Tennessee totally revamped their teacher evaluation model in a grab for money (oh, Race to the Top of what?!?).

    We are now evaluated on a 5 point scale (1 being “dear heavens child, maybe your should think of doing something else and 5 being something we’re not even sure God could attain). We were told from the beginning that even the best teachers would probably only get a 3. That a 3 was “rock solid”. Oh, and that you can now only get tenure if you have 3 years of evaluations at the 4 and 5 level (Tenure is a whole other topic for me. I like tenure for very solid reasons that have nothing to do with sitting on my butt and doing nothing everyday). The state legislature gut punched every teacher in the state with this and we’ve not quite recovered (though we are now gleefully watching the scramble to fix the problems and law suits some counties filed). We teachers did not take it well no matter whole much our administrators reassured us that it was all going to be okay.

    And don’t forget that a huge chunk of my evaluation can be determined using student performance on state standardized tests. You know a performance that has a million variables (like whether a student has food on the table or works full time to support their family or dad’s a drunk who beats them or mom’s high and can’t keep a job) and the only one a teacher can control for is whether they taught the material or not.

    Also, the governor of my great state enjoys saying uplifting things like this new evaluation model will weed out the bad teachers and better teachers will come in and take their place. I wonder where all these better teachers are going to come from?

    Let me carefully step down off my soap box lest I slip and bust my shins up. Personally, I have to look at like Patti. I can only do my best, hope that it’s a enough, and remind myself that I am doing my best.

    • I like that bumper sticker about “when DOD has to have bake sales to fund a new bomber, maybe we’ll have fewer drop outs” or something to that effect. One of the many people rotating through the school superintendent’s job in our county put it this way: For what we’re paying, we get an excellent education system. Compared to what the kids need–it will never be adequate to achieve what’s expected of it.

      Then too, I think because most adults when through some form of compulsory education, everybody feels entitled to comment on what needs to be done to improve schools… except the school I attended forty years ago is NOTHING like the school you work in now.

      All I can suggest is to focus on the idea that for the few starfish whom you can pitch into the surf of literacy, numeracy, and other skills, you’ve made the difference of a life time. Hang in there.

  6. Grace, I love your books. I was/am so very impressed with the emotion that you can bring to a scene and the thorough understanding you have of sibling interactions. I am one of nine and can relate to the bickering and teasing that goes on between the heri, the soldier, and the virtuoso. I am looking forward to reading “Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal” and would be so thrilled to win a copy! Thanks for the opportunity.

  7. Betty, I’m so glad you got your whole series and have enjoyed reading through it. With Maggie’s book, we get more of that sibling interaction, and we also meet the Marquis of Deene, who is treated like a shirttail cousin… except for that mistletoe moment with Lady Eve.
    I get ahead of myself.

  8. Oh!!! I would love a copy of “Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal”, and I plan on reading Jennifer Ashley’s new book on April 3rd!

    In January I was passed over to become a regular full member of my team, meaning getting all the perks & benefits of being a regular employee with the company I’ve been working for for at the time 6months. I was passed over for a co-worker that had started about 6wks after I did. When I asked my boss why she said, “It literally was a coin toss between the two of you”. That was not exactly the answer I wanted to here. I wish she could have told me it was because of my attitude of productivity or something concrete, but the reason she gave made no sense. Afterwords I was so angry, and sadly I felt like I wasn’t good enough and why the heck was I wasting my time with a company that would flip a coin to bring me on as a regular employee? After a day, ok maybe a few more days of feeling sorry for myself, I thought I’m better than this and it will happen for me. So, I went out bought myself a new sparkly necklace (sparkle is my favorite color), gave myself a your are worth what you make of yourself pep talked and did my job to the best of my abilities. Yes, there is a happy ending to this story… On February 13, my boss pulled me aside and asked if I would be willing to join company full time with all benefits and perks. Of course, I accepted and the offer letter came in. The kicker…it was the week of my 30th birthday, it was a great way to start my birthday week!
    I think for me, if I give myself the the time to feel little sorry for myself and pout, I can then give myself a pep talk and try to find the good and move on. It’s not always easy and sometimes it takes longer, but I usually come out better for it.

    • I need processing time too, and sometimes I want to hurry through it–can’t I just put it behind me, for cryin’ inna bucket?–but this is one of those, “you can’t push string” processes.

      I think that because you had the gumption to confront your boss on a rational basis–you’d been there longer and were of comparable calibre–you got her thinking about her “coin toss” answer. How lovely, that she’s the kind of boss who can re-think a decision, and keep a terrific employee. And how equally lovely that you’re sporting some new sparkle, so to speak.

  9. Oh heck what a question! Everyday at work I am judged by my coworkers, supervisors and public and at least once a day I am deemed “unworthy”. In my line of work (public safety) praise is rare and it is to be expected that someone, somewhere will not be happy with the information or answer that I have given. I have come to accept it. As for dealing with my coworkers… Well…

    Certain people always have that air of superiority and think they are perfect. Only people they deem perfect and worthy escape their wrath. I KNOW I’m not perfect and I don’t try to be perfect. What I am is perfectly ME. I will not try to change myself in order to be their version of perfect. If they don’t like me or the way I do something, it doesn’t matter to me. Nothing I do will ever make them happy nor will it make them like me and that is fine by me. All that matters is that I know I did the best I can to the best of my abilities and if nobody dies or comes to any harm at the end of the day, then it was a GREAT day.

    Then I call my closest girlfriends and have a long chat with them and maybe a drink if it’s been an especially trying day. There is no power greater for boosting self esteem then a pack of girlfriends!!

    • Wise of you to know the power of the hen party, and hats off to you for slogging away in an tough, tough field. Everybody wants to be safe, nobody wants to pay for it. This is a good place to start a romance novel, because by the end of the book, the characters need to dwell where you are: The safety that counts most is the safety of loving and being well loved.

  10. I was always taught and tried to teach my children, that when you fall down, you get up again and continue to put one foot in front of the other. Even a failure can be a learning and growing experience. I think we put too much stock into what other people may think about us and in the long run who cares. As long as we are peace with ourselves and our family and friends, that is all that matters. We will never be able to please everyone. And I can’t believe that anyone who has actually sat down and read one of your books would be disappointed!

  11. Sue, I could show you links of those reviewers who derived great glee from trashing my books, and the same for just about all of my keeper authors. Those sting, but there are also negative reviews that are thoughtful, analytical, and even respectful. It’s as Joanna Bourne says, you won’t convince somebody to like Brussels sprouts if they don’t, and you particularly won’t convince them by talking at them.

    Thanks for the compliment though, and big thumps on the back for being the sort of parent who walks the talk.

  12. Grace, I am also one of your fans. I like the way you write, so please keep doing what you’ve been doing. I deal with rejection/criticism by first wallowing in self-pity for a brief period and letting myself feel bad. I’m one of those glass is half full types, so I don’t let myself wallow for long. Then, and this has gotten easier the closer I get to 50, is I can’t please everyone and must stay true to myself no matter what. I also think of one of my favorite quotes: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt said that. Wise woman! Nobody can please everyone and when I know I’ve done my very best even if I fail, there’s not much else I can do! Happy writing and I’m looking forward to this book whether I win or not!

    • I have been known to call a friend and say, “I need a Poor Baby–my editor just gave me the revisions from hell…” Odd that I do not call my own mom, though my sisters are always a good bet.

    • My secretary gave me some really good advice when I’d come through a long, miserable legal muddle: Clean off my desk. I’ve adapted that advice to mean: Do some micro-ritual that turns over the energy and feel of my surroundings. Burn a scented candle, smudge with sage, Goodwill a bunch of clothes I’m not fitting into.

      Somehow, turn the compost and it helps me move on.

  13. In one case I realized in doing the job I was hired to do, be the change agent, wasn’t really what the group wanted, and I maintaining their status quo wasn’t my forte or calling. So I changed tribes and moved on. Years later random snippets fall in my lap that the situation is still the same, just with a new whipping boy in the position.

    It was very much like a divorce – it wasn’t making anyone happy, instead of beating each other down, care enough & be brave enough to stop. Cleaning & tidying is my process mechanism too. If I’m really struggling with something then comes baking and cooking: methodical chopping, stirring, chopping some more. When the cocoa, brown sugar, vanilla and chocolate come out too, deep processing is being done.

    When I don’t like a book, especially enough to finish it, I usually tag it on my goodreads shelf and rarely star or review it. The more I read, the more cognizant I become of my mood, what I’m craving, is equally intrinsic to the writing, characters and premise for my enjoyment. If I’m craving St Just a contemporary or Urban Fantasy (or vice versa) isn’t going to satisfy my hunger. ‘Know Thy Self’

    The local movie critic panned Raiders of the Lost Ark. Since reading that review I tend to avoid reviwers/critics. Friends & fav author recommendations carry much more weight and insight.

    Grace what a dilema! Maggie’s new story or a signed Soldier or Heir…think I have to go with Maggie to find out what is in that reticule!

    • I like the careful hierarchy, Larisa, with the baking at the apex of the coping mechanisms. And yeah, I know what you mean: When you’re jones’ing for a swain, a cyborg just won’t cut it.

  14. hi Grace i have been judged and then i believes i have judged others too, but one thing i remember i am just a human. My grandma told me that because life is an imperfect thing that was why life becomes important and perfect in many simple ways:)

  15. Being judged not good (enough) usually makes me think about it deeply. Regardless if it comes from someone I dearly respect or do not like or put great value on their opinion. And usually it keeps me think quite long and make me doubt on me. But who knows what I can learn or improve from other people’s opinions?
    But for me and probably everyone, it depends on the matter, how we deal with bad or misjudgement.

    E. g.: I am troubled with my employer at the moment and it bothers me greatly. Due to having gotten 2 children within a short period and after just having started at that company, they want me to leave/quit now (I want to work only part-time after coming back from yet another one year’s maternity leave and this is not very suitable for this job but necessary with 3 children you really want to attend to). Due to German employment law, it is not easy to just get rid of me (and not for that reason anyway), so of course they are trying to press me and told me I did/do not do my job well enough for them and that would be the reason for them to ask me to leave. This troubles me quite greatly and lets me truly doubt on my work quality.
    But in my husband, I really find a partner and support. We discuss this again and again and he tells me many good reasons why they try to tell me this and why this is just not true and I do a good job and he just gives me self confidence and makes me think about the whole affair somewhat more relaxed. And in the end (however this situation will end – I stay or quit and find something else for me), after interviews with them and thinking about me and my job and studying employment law and …whatever – I will come out wiser and stronger and will just have learned for life.

    On the other hand: In raising my children (I have three wonderful ones) I often get to my limits (no one told me before that raising children can be so hard!) and usually there are discussions with my parents who mostly think otherwise and judge me/us to be too hard and strict and I just can’t do right. But, my husband and I decided for OUR way with the kids and we will go it as we think this to be best for them. And it IS our choice to say what is best for our kids. Others can think what they want is best for their children and will raise them accordingly. So in here, other opinions do not trouble and occupy us so much as we are convinced of what we do (is right).

    And: we can’t (always) make it right for everybody, just important is, that we love what we do and stand to it and take advice into consideration from time to time, and learn and improve from it. And (not only) regarding your writing, Grace, there need to be people who might not like it as only due to different tastes we have such a great variety of all things!

    It is damned hard to wait several weeks for your books after ordering here in Germany as foreign books just need looooong to be delivered… And somehow (just after his appearence in The Heir), out of all coming characters, I am most curious about Hazlit.

  16. Connie, your work situation sounds really difficult, but your philosophical approach means you’ll make lemonade out of whatever lemons life hands you.

    And as for parenting… I recall a family reunion where one of my siblings told me, “If you don’t ease up on your daughter, you’re going to regret it. She’s just a little girl…” The next day, another sibling told me, “If you don’t start setting some limits for that kid when she’s a little girl, you’ll really going to regret it.”

    We do the best we can. Thank heavens you and your husband are on the same page!