Staying Focused – Learning From St Paul

How do we stay focused when all that we hope for seems very far from being achieved? These are the words that inspire me as I write: Only let us live up to what we have already attained. They come from St. Paul’s letter to his Christian friends at Philippi – chapter 3 verse 16. It is a measure of his psychological insight that these words apply not only specifically to the individuals he wrote to, but across time and culture to any of us who aim high in any field of endeavour at all.
But in the field of creative writing, how appropriate these words are. They are all about letting go of the negative, moving on from any feelings of inadequacy, and choosing not to focus on what hasn’t worked. Earlier in this same passage, Paul says: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize. In these words, he encapsulates something which is at the heart of all success.
In the time which has passed since the publication of my first novel, several wonderful things have happened, which have filled me with joy, which have encouraged me, which have taught me much. In addition to this, other things I hoped for have not happened – although there have been a number of intriguing little flashes of hope and possibility for the future. But only let me live up to what I have already attained. No words could be more relevant to me at the very moment of writing this.
These words aren’t passive, purely about a positive attitude, as in Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. They are active, and require you to re-imagine your own story. Consider the example of Georges Melies, French illusionist and film-maker (1861-1938). In 1923, outraged at a tragic decline in his fortunes, he personally burned all of the negatives of his films that he had stored at his Montreuil studio plus many of the sets and costumes. Later he was recognised and honoured, and received the Legion of Honour from Lumiere himself. And now 200 of his remaining films have been released on DVD. But in that dark mood in 1923, he fell victim to a despair that these words could have lifted him from – he only needed to live up to all that he had attained.
So Paul’s words remind us of our personal responsibility to acknowledge and build on all that is positive in our lives, even in the face of changeable feelings, to the extent of “acting as if” and then finding that the feelings – of encouragement and fresh hope – follow.

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