“Tell me all the things you’ve succeeded at in life.”
My therapist often asks me to do
ridiculous helpful things like this, and even though I sometimes want to laugh, she is serious about her requests.
I started in childhood, listing things like learning to walk and talk and read. Even navigating school on a daily basis for years is a success for an introverted, highly sensitive person. The more I talked, the more things I remembered that I had done “successfully.” Then she asked me to stand up as I spoke and continue listing things. I talked about going to college and spending a semester in England and traveling a couple of times by myself because I was highly motivated.
And then I talked about writing.
This is where the conversation actually began.
See, there’s this writing conference in August that I want to go to. I’ve been wanting to go to it for years and this year finally feels like the year that it’s possible. But I’m scared. And also the price tag feels like too much for a dream. Too much investment in me. The thing that I’m afraid of is not what you might think. I’m not really afraid that I will go to this conference and be told I don’t have it or that my writing doesn’t cut it or that my ideas are trash. (For the record, I don’t think anyone would actually say it that way; those are my words only.) I’m not afraid of that because some days, a lot of them actually, I think rejection is what I deserve. I think failure is my destiny, that I don’t have what it takes to be a successful writer. So, someone else saying that would just confirm what I think I know.
No, what I really fear is success, however I might define it. I’m more afraid that going to this conference could lead to something bigger than I can imagine. This is not my expectation for the event, but it’s a possible outcome.
Fear of success. That’s why I found myself standing in my therapist’s office talking about all of my achievements. That’s an uncomfortable position for someone who avoids tooting her own horn. But I’m constantly being reminded that insecurity is false humility. It is okay to talk about the things we are good at, to celebrate a job well done.
So, I have homework. I never liked homework in school, but I always did it because that’s the kind of person I am. I don’t like it much better when it comes from someone I am paying an hour at a time every couple of weeks, but I will do it because I will have to report back the next time I go.
“Tell three people what you told me.”
That’s the homework. I have to recount my successes to three people because the more times I say it out loud, the more I’ll believe it. The more I’ll remember. I don’t know if this counts as telling anyone, but I’m a writer, so it’s a start. (And if three of you read this post and would leave a comment so I know that you did, that would go far in making me feel like I’d accomplished the homework.)
When it comes to writing, I feel like a fraud. I have stood in front of groups of writers offering expertise, and though I have a degree in communication and 8 years of professional writing experience in a brick-and-mortar workplace, I am most recently a stay-at-home mom who has only a few writing credits to her name. I don’t have a book published, and apparently, that is my standard for authority and credibility.
Hence the listing of successes. (Can you tell that even writing these out is hard for me. I’m more than 600 words into this post and I still haven’t listed them!)
This is where my therapist stops me and says: “You are a professional writer who took a break for a while to raise little people. And now you’re wanting to jump back in full force. This is not abnormal.” She cites others who have done this, and I realize that I have been diminishing my identity as a writer because my role as mother has taken a front seat for so many years.
And it doesn’t help that most people who know me now in Pennsylvania don’t know that in my hometown I was, for years, “that girl who writes for the paper.” Even when I went to the grocery store, people would stop me to talk because they recognized my face from a picture, or let’s be honest, they knew my parents or grandparents. Hometown love=blessed.
Chances are if you’re reading this, you don’t know some of those writing things about me, either. (Closing in on 850 words and I’m still struggling to tell you my successes.)
Okay, here goes:
I took some creative writing classes in college, possibly the most insecure time in my life to be showing other people my work. I remember the first time a creative writing professor critiqued something I’d written. He could tell I was used to writing newspaper articles because I was a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of story writer, too. I knew, then, that my writing was not great. I was no prodigy. I couldn’t turn a phrase like some of my classmates. But not long after that, something happened. I started following Jesus, and even though it sounds so cliche to say it, but something changed in my writing after that. You can dismiss that, if you want, but I know what I experienced. Writing became a spiritual experience for me.
God offered me encouragement in my craft in the unlikeliest of places. One time, I had written a short story about a purse-snatching or some kind of robbery, and how the woman who was the victim forgave the boy who committed the crime and it changed his life. It was not a great story, and when my professor started talking about it in front of the class, he began by saying he could not believe this scenario would ever occur. But after he had read my story, he had read a newspaper article in which that exact thing happened. He even brought the article in to show us, I think. Maybe that’s my memory adding drama to the event. I had no way of knowing that scenario would occur in real life and that my professor would read about it. It felt like a nudge from God, a holy affirmation of, “See, I’ve got this.”
Another time, I was taking a class from the most-feared writing professor in the department. He was harsh and hard to please and everyone pretty much knew that their writing would get ripped to shreds. But I needed the credit and he was the only one to teach the class. I wrote another story about redemption and first love, and when I think about it now, it was an awful story as well. Most of my classmates hated it because of its religious elements, and though my professor was a religious man, his reputation was to not like creative writing with that slant. My turn for class critique came up, and I was as anxious as I’d ever been, probably, about writing. To my shock, he publicly praised the story. I still can’t believe it when I think about all these years later.
I don’t feel like I had much to do with those “successes” but they are part of my writing heritage. They are the kinds of stories I need to tell and retell so I remember that I’m not just playing at a fun hobby here but following my God-given calling. I was a writer before I was a wife, before I was a mother, and I will be a writer until I die, whether I’m ever contracted with a traditional publisher to write a book or not. I am a published writer already.
Bear with me for one more “success” story?
Guys, I am an award-winning journalist. I have the plaques on my wall to prove it. (Oh. My. Goodness. I hate how arrogant I sound.)
Honestly, those plaques hang on the wall, not to brag, but to serve as a reminder of what I’m capable of. I told this to my therapist and she was like, “Get out. What?!” (Not her exact words, but you know, the gist.)
It’s true. I’ve won awards for my writing. Sure, they were statewide awards for papers of similar size and not, you know, Pulitzer prizes or anything, but I got to go to a fancy banquet in the state capital and receive the honors in front of all kinds of newspaper people, including ones who worked for THE TRIB. (That’s journalist shorthand for the Chicago Tribune. Kind of a big deal.)
Most days, when I think of my journalism career, I think of how awful I felt about it. I was not good at approaching strangers for comment, and I had major anxiety about causing conflict. I think more about the times I wrote something that ticked people off and how they called and left nasty messages on my voicemail. I imagine what it would have been like to be a journalist with today’s ever-present social media and anonymous comments. I would have crumbled under the meanness, or developed a hardened heart. It was bad enough to have to go out in public and face people’s disappointments when I had to write about an uncomfortable truth.
But that’s not the whole story of my writing career. I wrote some damn good pieces that got noticed at the state level. I took a big risk writing a story about a woman’s allegations against a college athletic director that eventually resulted in his firing. I’m sorry he lost his job, but I’m not sorry the woman finally had a voice in the whole thing. One very terrible day, I wrote about a family of four who drowned in the river after a middle-of-the-night car crash. These aren’t the kinds of things you want to write about, but they are things I will never forget. Like the Friday night when the city’s main industry, the steel mill, closed for good. Or the Saturday that President Ronald Reagan, whose hometown was the same as mine, died. I participated in local history. That’s no small thing, even if it doesn’t feel like a big thing.
Maybe I will keep going with listing my successes, but I don’t want to bore you further. Maybe I will tell some people, out loud with words, if I actually see any people to tell. Most days, I only see my immediate family and they are not impressed by my former life.
Sometimes I forget that I am a writer. That I always have been, ever since I filled notebooks with stories and handed them to my parents’ friends to read. I filled journal after journal with thoughts and dreams and fears.
I have always been a writer and I always will be. And attending this conference won’t change that.
Stay tuned because this next step of the journey is both significant and insignificant. It doesn’t change anything, but it could change everything.
And if you don’t want to miss a single step of the journey, submit your e-mail address at the top right-hand side of the page. You’ll get an e-mail when I post something new. (That’s as self-promotion-y as I get. It’s uncomfortable but necessary.)
Do you ever think about your successes in life? Tell me about them in the comments. I’d love to celebrate them with you!