| Angie Counios

A life-changing book

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. It’s a dance and it’s important—but without care, toes can get stepped on and sometimes get hurt.

There are tools, however, to help with these moments.

You Must Read This

I have a very foggy memory—so foggy that I may be making this up[1]—of a friend whose dad said, “You must read this. It will change your life.”

I can’t recall which book it was—I was about 18, so I can barely even which remember which friend it was. Yet, the thought that a book could change my life made my teen brain scrunch like a nose lingering on a strong smell. That was 1987.

A couple of summers ago, I read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and it changed my life. How about that!

Now, Don Miguel is 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.” And there you go again!

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 dance all over the place.

The Dance

In its simplest form the Four Agreements are:

  1. Always do your best.
  2. Be impeccable with your word.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Don’t take things personally.

These four ideas shape my 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 worth ethic because 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, miscommunication, 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 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[2], 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 truly gotten easier to manage all sorts of processes in my life, by just remembering these rules.

The Four Agreements: who could disagree?

PS: I also recommend Swift Flowing, the zine David published last year.

  1. Dave's note: As her writing partner, I can attest to this fact. ↩︎

  2. Dave's note: I also must not make assumptions when she points to me as a cause twice in a row... ↩︎

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