Stepping out of the shame storm to embrace confidence

be bold

At the start of 2018, I dedicated this year to confidence. I aimed to build on my confidence and become more surefooted in my endeavors, my path, and make solid steps toward my future. A few days after making this vow, I agreed to be my mother-in-law’s caretaker for a week. That week turned into several months. Then the end date became unknown. My life changed dramatically, flipping from a busy life I could manage to one where I had very little control or structure. The biggest change was that my time and energy were now required for my mother-in-law, and I had very little reserved for myself.

The past few weeks have been particularly bad. I questioned everything I’ve believed in. I mean EVERYTHING. I scaled back on a lot of things. Then, I thought about what else I could scale back on. Quit the gym? Quit school? Quit writing? If there was something I could quit, it came up for consideration.

In short, I lost my confidence. I stopped believing I could write, sure that I was just fooling myself and everyone else. I stopped believing that going to school was worth it…that I was worth an education. I stopped having confidence in my abilities, my faith, my progress, my dreams, my present, my future.

Now? I think this is one huge test. It’s a hurdle I need to get over if I’m really determined to work on my confidence.

I was thinking this morning about what I want most out of life, and realized it’s really, really simple—I just want to be a better writer. This is completely within my control, too. I realized a lot of my angst was over the realization that my author career has kind of plateaued for the moment, and I grew tired of the uphill climb toward success. Thing is, I can’t really control fame or success, not completely, at least. However, I have complete power to learn more, practice what I’m learning, and keep improving on my craft. Then, I have the power to pass on what I’ve learned. To me, that would be the perfect life: to write every day and share this gift with other aspiring writers.

I also don’t need to apologize or feel shame over any of the real feelings I’m having. Last week as I was struggling, a commenter thought it amusing that I was “just now” carving out time for my creativity when I’d already written a book on making time for creativity. He wasn’t mean about it, but his words were ones already inside me—meaner ones that feed my shame over the fact that I was struggling at all after writing Reclaim Your Creative Soul. I mean, if I could write a book that shared how to get your life in order so you can be more creative, I should be living it completely, right?

WRONG.

First and foremost, I’m human. Second, so is everyone else. We all have moments when we’re down, when life throws you the unexpected, when we need a break, when we forget to take a break, when we’re feeling negative, when we mess up, when we feel like we can’t do anything right, when we question our purpose, our existence, our everything.

This week, I feel a ton better than I did last week. I see light where there used to be dark. I see hope. And I am more adamant than ever to take this one day at a time in this care-taking journey, to carve space out for me, to stop meeting change with fear, and to start seeking out possibility rather than disappointment. I plan to give this my best shot, and I plan to give myself grace if I fall down.

I plan to embrace confidence. I plan to make room for margins in my life. But most of all, I plan to be human.

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Truth telling: Fear of success as an author

Last week at work, I was yelled at by a business I’d included in a newspaper article assignment. The woman on the other line called me out for not contacting them for proper information, which was true. Her voice continued to raise as she pointed her finger at everything I did wrong, and I didn’t fight her because everything she said was true. I’d written an entertaining article that ended up going gangbusters, much to my surprise, and this business was left to clean up the PR nightmare I’d unintentionally created for them by not verifying information. I felt genuinely bad, and I tried to apologize, promising a retraction. But then she hit me where it hurt.

“I see you’re a writer,” she told me. “I see you write things about how to be a writer. It would take nothing to put your name out there as someone who spreads bad information.” She let me know that if their company suffered from this article in any way, I was going down with them.

I was officially triggered. Every single fear I’ve ever had came crashing down on me, things I’ve felt all along, but now were staring me in the face. I’m not good enough. I don’t know what I’m doing. Who do I think I am? How dare I even believe I can keep playing this make-believe game of being a writer, both at work and in my personal life? I’m not educated enough. I’m not talented enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m a total and complete hack.

This triggered barrage of fears at work has seeped into my work as an author. I’m not supposed to talk about this. Who says? I don’t know. I just know that most authors keep things light and friendly, presenting their books in these neat little packages as if they didn’t spend months or years before that bleeding at their keyboard and contemplating ending it all out of self-doubt. My favorite indie authors who are making a killing at this game are funny, personable, and confident. Not me, though. I’m a complete disaster. I’m a mess. I doubt myself constantly. The worst time of my life is always book launch time, because I’ve already predicted its failure before the book is even released.

But truthfully, it’s also a relief when the book doesn’t sell. It means there’s less of a chance for someone to discover the flaws I’ve included between the pages. I’m afraid any research I’ve done hasn’t been enough. Readers will discover I don’t know how to sail a boat, grow a garden, live on a pot farm, or watch a good friend die. I’ll get something wrong, and a reader will call me on it, and the book will be destroyed.

Making it in this writing game is all I want, and it scares me the most. It would be amazing to reach the point where I can live off the proceeds from my books. But what happens if someone smears my name, either by something I’ve done, or something I haven’t done? You’ve all seen the internet mobs that come flying with their pitchforks over someone who’s done something terrible. It would take nothing for a false rumor to be spread that way and ruin someone’s life. If I had a platform, it would be too easy for someone I’d rubbed raw to smear my name and ruin my career. This woman that called me on the article could potentially ruin me by letting everyone know that I have no idea what I’m talking about, that I love to spread fake news.

This woman isn’t even my biggest fear. It’s the readers. When I’m writing a book, I am free, for the most part, of any doubts I have. It’s just me and the characters, and we’re having a great time during the weeks I write their story. But as soon as the book is ready to publish, all my fears take over. The door opens, and I invite people in to read all the things that have been private for months. I’m left vulnerable as people I don’t know pick up my story and witness what I’ve created. Worse, people I know pick up the story. I feel judged, exposed, emotional, afraid. The days after a book release, I usually hide, unable to muster a social media post or say anything about the book because I’m so spent and nursing a nasty book launch hangover.

Then there’s the marketing part. I tell people I know how to write, but I don’t know how to market. That’s a partial lie. I know things I can do that will help drum up interest, but I don’t do them because of my fear of rejection. If I tell people about the book, they will ask what it’s about, and as I tell them, I can hear a little voice telling me they’re not interested, they’re just being polite, no one reads anymore, and so on. I worry more that I will gather their interest, and then, once they read the book, they’ll be left disappointed because I failed to live up to my hype.

And, of course, there’s that one fear I spoke of a few paragraphs ago—if I gather a lot of interest, there’s more potential for someone to realize I’m a hack. I’ve published 9 books so far. I should be so much better at this game. Instead, I’m worse—and my self-doubt is my biggest reason why.

I was listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday podcast with India.Arie, who spoke about leaving the music industry for a time because she felt like she was losing herself to the commercial side and not keeping true to her own beliefs. Her obstacle was her feeling of inadequacy. When she was nominated for 7 Grammys, she was so overwhelmed she couldn’t handle it. When she didn’t win a single one, she was caught somewhere between feelings of failure and a sense of relief. I totally get her on this one. Then she told Oprah a realization she’d had just a few weeks earlier in a moment of self-doubt.

“What if Oprah decided she was too fat for TV?”

Whoa. Let’s chew on that for a second. Oprah wasn’t always OPRAH. She was once a radio station newscaster who found her calling in the talk show arena because she knew how to tell a story. But what if she had decided she couldn’t be seen in the public eye because she wasn’t thin enough, smart enough, or likable enough?

What if Steph Curry decided he wasn’t good enough at basketball?

What if Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (my obsession) felt like his life was too messy to create music?

What if Stephen King had successfully thrown away his manuscript for Carrie?

What if Jesus, Gandhi, Muhammad, Confucius, Buddha, or the Dalai Lama decided they didn’t know what they were talking about, and kept quiet because they were afraid someone would strongly disagree with them?

Earlier this year, I tattooed my favorite Bible verse on my arm: Be not afraid or discouraged. The Lord your God is with you. Joshua 1:9. Fear has been my driving force for so many years. It’s been my God. My focus this year has been on faith, and part of that journey is to let go of fear. Here we are in November, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. In many ways, I feel more afraid than ever. I wish for thick skin, and it’s ridiculously thin. I pretend I have callouses because I work at a newspaper and deal with ridicule on a daily basis. But I don’t have callouses, I have scars that keep reopening.

Not one person in this world is flawless. I’m just me, trying to figure out the world and where I fit in the story. I don’t have all the answers; I can’t even pretend that I do. But I do know that I can only own the things I can control. I can’t control how many people read my book, though I can do things to push it in their direction. I can’t control what people think about my book. But I can control what I write, and stay true to my beliefs as I write it. For that, I need to be clear on those beliefs. What’s my ultimate message? Each story incorporates something I’m grappling with in the time that I’m writing it. What have I learned from the story? What do I hope the reader will learn?

Finally, what’s my definition of success? I thought success was selling enough books so that I can be a full-time writer. However, this definition doesn’t make me happy. It feels shallow, and its broad definition makes the goal out of reach. But you know what makes me feel like I’ve fulfilled my purpose? When someone reaches out to me to say they found themselves in my story, that they felt less alone when they read it, that it reached a deep emotion inside they hadn’t even known was there. My definition of success is when a reader connects with the story I’ve told them, and I’ve changed them because of it.

That’s a definition I can live for.

There will always be critics in this world. I’m not done fearing them, but I’m trying to move away from that. The best I can do, the best any of us can do, is to remember we are all souls having a human experience. We are all connected in one way or another, even with our worst critics. What can we take from each experience? What should we leave behind. Most important, which voices in this world build us up and encourage us to be the best we can be? Those are the voices to focus on.

Writing naked.

Everyone in the world can sing. Not everyone can sing well, but everyone has the ability to move their voice up and down in some way, even adding words to go with the melody. Singing isn’t really something new. And yet, only a select few of us will ever sing for another human being. It’s funny how loud and open we can be with a song when we’re in the privacy of our own car, and yet, put us in front of people, and suddenly our pipes freeze up.

This is me. Only a small percentage of the population has ever heard me sing – my kids, my husband, my sisters, and a few lucky people at the karaoke bar after I imbibed in some liquid courage. But really, no one has ever heard me truly belt it out, because I save those diva performances for the walls of my shower room, or when I think no one is looking at me in my car. Let me tell you something, my inner combination of Aretha Franklin, Adele, and Amy Winehouse can wail! And you’ll never hear me sing, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Singing is something I hold close to the vest.

The same could be said of my writing. At one time I wrote for an audience of one. All my poetry, journal entries, short stories, etc. were quietly bound in my notebook, kept there to only be re-read by myself, or written and then forgotten. To have someone look at what I was writing would be like walking down the street naked. I put my whole soul in what I wrote. I didn’t know how to write any other way. I wrote the truth, my truth, and left out nothing. It was how I cleared my head, battled inner demons, worked out problems, cried without tears…

In Breathe, Anna Nalick sang, “If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to…”

Yes.

But I couldn’t share those words. There were a few times they were taken from me. There was the time when a jealous boyfriend stole my diary and read every single page. There were the crumpled up pieces of truth in my garbage can that my mother found. And there was my Creative Writing class in school where I was forced to write things down and SHARE. THEM. OUT. LOUD.

Um, what?

This was both terrifying and exhilarating. This wasn’t like writing essays about books that some dead author wrote. This was actually creating a story from the corners of my own mind, and then offering them up to my fellow students who would either eat them up or spit them out.

Needless to say, not one student was horrible when it came to hearing other people’s stories. Everyone was too concerned about their own story to worry about knocking down anyone else. Though I hadn’t completely overcome my fear of sharing my writing, I learned what it felt like to momentarily break down those walls I’d built around me, sharing the little pieces of my soul I’d put down on paper.

I eventually did let my writing venture into the public eye. I started out with an online diary (which later turned into blogging). I scored a killer job with the newspaper where I got to share my true parenting stories with a small corner of the world. And then, last year, I published my first book – a venture that led to an obsession I can no longer put away.

I was meant to write, and I was meant to share it.

However, there are some serious dangers to sharing your passion with the world, as I soon learned.

The thing about passionate writing is, the words are your babies. Before I share each story I’ve written, I have gone over every single word, working and reworking them until they have reached my level of perfection. And even then, it’s hard to let them go. When I do, it’s like cutting the apron strings and sending my babies off to college. I’ve done my job. I’ve trained them up. I’ve instilled in them all my values and hopes for their future. And then I give them their train ticket, kiss them goodbye, and wave from the platform, hoping against hope that the world doesn’t eat them alive and undo all the love I put into them.

But thing is, I am not in control of how the world receives them. Some of you will receive these words with the same love I had for them when I created them. Others will look at them and see them as the kind of words only a mother could love. Some won’t get them. Some will. Some will hope there are more words to follow. Others, not so much.

To share something you are passionate about with the world – be it writing, singing, art, or whatever it is that you’re passionate about – you must also develop a thick skin. With the positive feedback (and there will be some out there), there is negative feedback (and there will be much of this, too). And the negative feedback is LOUDER than the positive feedback, no matter how miniscule it is.

My skin is noticeably thicker nowadays then it was when I first started. But I still battle the impulse to throw in the towel when I hear anything less than “I loved it!” when it comes to my writing. If I find out someone didn’t love it, I seriously consider quitting altogether, pulling all my books off virtual bookshelves, and going back to being a nobody with a private journal.

I do this EVERY time.

But the thing is, I can’t quit. Writing is the source of both my sanity and my insanity. It’s the very thing that allows me to breathe, and the very thing that makes me hold my breath. It’s both my fear and my comfort. It’s my Heaven and my hell. It’s the way I divulge the tiny portions of my life that are too private to talk about directly. If I couldn’t write, I would wither into nothing. I truly believe that.

At this very moment, I am fighting those demons of self-doubt, the ones who are whispering in my ear that I am not good enough or talented enough or special enough, the ones who are telling me that no one wants to read what I have to write, and I should just give up the charade and go back to hiding in the shadows. I am fighting them, and I will never stop fighting them. But I refuse to back down, because, as Anna Nalick sang, If I get it all down on paper, it’s no longer inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to…