The moment we work with others, we have to trust. We have to master negotiation, knowing when to dig in, when to let go, when to compromise, as well as when to defend parts of our craft or even our life. It’s a dance and it’s important—but without care, toes can get stepped on and sometimes people get hurt. However, there are tools to help with these moments.
You must read this book
A couple of summers ago I read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and it changed my life. Just like that. Don Miguel is now my dance instructor for life. I have bought several copies and given
them away. The last time I purchased one the girl at the counter said, “I hear this book changes people’s lives.” I asked her if she’d read it. “No, but everyone who buys it says that it changes their life.” I told her it was true and took yet another copy of the Four Agreements home. So, it’s not just me! This book is helping people do the life changing dance all over the place.
In its simplest form the Four Agreements are:
- Always do your best.
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Don’t take things personally.
How they shape my writing life
My best: When I write, I try hard to bring my best work to the table. If I don’t manage a great day of writing I still remember that it was the best I could do that day. I offer very little self-criticism towards my work ethic because I feel that’s pretty solid.
My word: When I say I’ll try, I attempt to be as impeccable with my word as possible, including being honest and open, and sticking to what I say. Clear communication is one of those trust things that keeps people comfortable and feeling safe. Secrets, miscommunications, and ambiguity leads to distrust so I try to be as exemplary with my word as possible.
Assumptions: I don’t make assumptions anymore. If, for example Dave cuts something I wrote, I don’t assume it’s because Dave hates it or thinks it’s garbage. I know it gets cut for technical and story reasons. I don’t assume that if I haven’t written in a few days that Dave is angry. I leave these assumptions (and all assumptions) behind since reading The Four Agreements.
No offense: When Dave is busy editing or changing or making suggestions, I do not take it personally. We are writing a story and that is the final goal. The process of writing has so little to do with stroking or hurting my ego. “Oh, that was a terrible passage (boo me). “or, “Oh that was a fantastic passage (yay me). Who cares? It’s the rough draft, the first humble draft of a story, a script, or a novel.
These four simple life instructions work in 4/4 time to almost all situations in my life. I think about them at school when I teach and I tell students about them. I apply them to my personal life and to my writing life. It has become easier to manage all sorts of processes in my life, by just remembering these rules.
How they shape the rest of my life
In short, I do my best every day, remember that people’s reactions are a reflection of them, not me. I don’t take things personally. And, I do what I say. I’m actually pretty good at doing and saying lining up. I also rarely assume anything, because we don’t really know anything but our own experience.
Someone send Will Smith a copy
I generally do not comment on any kind of pop culture trend. I’m not cool or trendy enough, but I actually couldn’t avoid the Oscar moment where Will Smith slapped Chris Rock. The first thing I thought—absolute first—was Someone send Will Smith a copy of this book!!! Don’t take it personally Mr. Smith. Don’t assume anyone is operating from a position of malice. Do your best Mr. Smith. And, darn it all, be impeccable with your word! It’s the basic best recipe.
These four rules are so incredibly simple but so are all the best ideas, designs, moments. Simple.
Who could disagree with these agreements?