Imagination for Self-Preservation

I credit many things from my childhood with setting in motion my career as an author. A big one was my love of talking; once I started, I couldn’t—haven’t—stopped! Along with that gift of gab, I enjoyed reading books, many of which I “autographed” in preparation for the signings I attend today. Topping the list, however, was my active imagination.

Every author of fiction would probably name imagination as the most important asset to writing. It’s the sole means to bring a story to life. In my case, I’d say I wasn’t necessarily born with an exceptional one, but it developed over time. Being physically handicapped, I spent many hours alone in my room, creating stories for my dolls to live out. I suppose, to some degree, I was using them to be able to do the things I couldn’t in the real world.

I stopped playing with dolls in adolescence, but my active imagination stuck with me and has benefitted me in more ways than my writing. Because of it, I’ve rarely gone into experiences without a picture in my mind of what’s going to happen. In my younger years, especially, a lot of those fantasies were both unreachable and unreasonable, and, sure, that could lead to disappointment. On the other hand, my imaginings helped me to face things with a positive mindset, which I needed, given my challenges.

Like many, though, I’ve grown up to find how few times life gives you what you’ve imagined and have even pursued. In turn, my still-active imagination has become more of a weapon than a gift. Instead of visualizing a bunch of great opportunities in store, I now see the various obstacles that can mar an experience.

For a while, I told myself I was just being a realist. I reasoned it was better to prepare for the most likely scenarios I’d encounter rather than anticipate something wonderful and be disappointed. I didn’t let my speculations go wild, per say, and make me paranoid—unless we’re talking about the cleanliness of hotel rooms!—, but my ever-growing life experience put a bleak filter on my mind’s eye.

I may be speaking in the past tense, but in truth, I have yet to overcome this tendency. However, I recently reflected on my imagination and how I’ve been using it. While the realistic/negative expectations I contrive do spare me the letdown of unfulfilled hopes, they don’t leave me happy, either. Being relieved something didn’t go as wrong as you thought it would doesn’t make it enjoyable or a success. After all, don’t you want your doctor to come out of your surgery saying, “It was the success we expected it to be,” as opposed to, “We only had half as many complications as we anticipated”?

So, whether you’re an artist or not, don’t be ashamed to keep an active imagination. Yes, you may want to bring it down a notch or two from when you were a child, but continue to visualize how well something can turn out. Disappointment stings, but it makes fulfillment sweeter when you find it. And once in a great while, things surpass even your best imaginings.


Keeping Surprises in Your Plan

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