Letting go of a 23 year old excuse

My therapist is moving out of state so I’m crowdsourcing my therapy. My lack of motivation and inertia constantly conflicting with my desire to be a writer is a recurring theme in nearly all of my sessions. I feel I’m not a rnotes on wood 1eal writer, introducing myself with conditions — I’m a writer who doesn’t write. I’m a writer who writes for a day job but not what I really want to write. I’m a writer who isn’t published in mainstream media or by traditional publishers. Adding conditions negates owning it.

Jeff Goins quotes his friend in this article, and his friend could have been talking to me: “…you don’t have to want to be a writer. You are a writer. You just have to write.” Additional advice I’ve received from the universe: If you want to be something, then name it. Yet I still can’t fully own that I am a writer. I don’t feel as if I deserve that title quite yet.

To accept that I am a writer means that I have to write.

Not writing prevents me from knowing if I am a good writer or not. (I’m not fishing for compliments. Honest!) What if I find out I am a horrible writer and I don’t have a plan B after 30 years of wanting to be a writer? Better not to know if I’ll fail than to risk failing and feel like I’ve misplaced my dream all this time. I’m sure I’m not alone in this thinking.

I haven’t read SARK or Robert Fulghum or Dave Barry in a very long time. They inspired me. My walls were covered with posters of SARK‘s vibrant words and Robert Fulghum’s essay, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” I had my favorite Dave Barry weekly columns tucked into the pages of his books. I wanted to write like them. I had laminated clippings from “serious journalists” like Bob Greene on my walls, too.* I was going to be a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune Magazine.

What happened to that optimistic, young writer?

I was rejected by one of the best journalism schools in the country. I wasn’t excited about being accepted into my second and third choice universities; I was devastated that I didn’t get into my first choice — the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. I have been holding on to that rejection and failure for the last 23 years. I was a Journalism Cherub, a participant in their National High School Institute program. At the time, we were told that 90 percent of the Cherubs who apply to Northwestern get accepted as an undergrad. I was part of the special 10 percent who didn’t. It didn’t matter their overall acceptance rate is less than 15 percent; I wasn’t good enough to be a Medill-trained writer. Since I couldn’t be at Medill, I couldn’t be a writer and obviously needed a more practical career. I chose public relations, not even knowing what it really was. I believe the dad who died in Flowers in the Attic was a PR guy.

This is the first time I’ve admitted out loud that I’ve let that Northwestern rejection hold me back. I’ve used that as an excuse in the back of my mind for so long. If they didn’t think I was good enough, then I’m not good enough. So I gave up. Though the writer in me keeps nagging to come out.

Logically I know I control what I do, not a rejection letter. If I had friends in a similar situation, I would tell them to prove the naysayers wrong. Become a great writer despite the rejection. I’m notorious of spouting do as I say and not as I do advice and wisdom.

I’ve put my obsession with that rejection out there; I can let go and finally move on. Right?

What regret or grudge or out of your control circumstance has held you back?

*Total side note: I just Googled Bob Greene to make sure I remembered the spelling correctly. I thought he had died, and I was so sad to hear that when it allegedly happened in my head. Turns out, he is alive and still writing. He was dismissed from the Trib in 2002. The things one can learn from Google and Wikipedia!

Born again. Again. And additional mixed metaphors.

Today may or may not be my birthday. As a former orphan, or like a Breadman sold on Craigslist, I don’t have original paperwork. No birth certificate; just an officmadhatterial document stating that it is an official document that states May 12 is my birth date.

As I begin my next decade*, I am beginning to write. Again. For the unknownth time. Depending on how you count.

I’m like the boy who cried wolf, only I yell “Hey, I posted a blog post! Stay tuned for another post in a week or two or year.” Elephants gestate a baby elephant in less time than the span of some of my posts.

I resist calling myself a blogger, or wanting to be one. I sometimes call myself a writer, though it would be more accurate to call myself a sometimes writer. I consider myself more of a columnist or essayist. (What’s the minimum word count to be considered an essayist?) Since grade school, I envisioned my writing as scraps of paper hanging on refrigerators across the country. Or tacked to people’s vision boards before vision boards were a thing.

According to Jon Acuff, (and many other internet philosophers), it’s never too late to have a do over. I recently read his book, Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck. I didn’t come away tremendously inspired, but it did spur me to think about doing over this blog. Again. The book centers around his concept of a Career Savings Account — investments in skills, character, relationships, and hustle. I’m overdrawn in the hustle account.

then-a-miracle-happensAs with many other things in my life (exercising, eating clean, keeping house), I know what to do but just don’t make myself do it. My life’s implementation is like step two in this comic:

Do Over is an easy, conversational read, much like his blog. I sense he is somewhat self-deprecating and funny and energetic in real life like in this book. Acuff also makes some very good points about showing up and needing to adjust yourself because others aren’t going to change for you. The book is likely helpful for many, and it served as a good reminder of some very foundational concepts. Not sure if I can sustain this do over beyond this post, but I can always start again. Again.

Enjoyed reading it.
Not enough to motivate
this perfectionist.

*I’m turning 41, so that starts my fourth decade, right? Did turning 40 end my third decade? It’s like the new millennia question — did it start with 2000 or 2001? Counting is hard.

What are you willing to put out there?

In this brief column by Cameron Herold, putting ideas out into the universe is key to long term dream-making. What would you put out in the universe? Clearly, the universe hasn’t answered my “if I had millions of dollars” wishes, yet. But other than that, I’ve been too chickensh!t to put any of my real dreams out there. Because once they’re out there, then there’s work to be done and the fear of failure is far too great. So, gulp, I’m putting this out there:

  • Write (and publish!).
  • Speak publicly about whatever comes to mind that others would want to hear.
  • Rid the world of bad PowerPoint presentations.

And you?

Analysis Paralysis

I’ve been sing-song-ing “analysis paralysis; something in my brain’s amiss” to the tune of the mean kid making fun of Cindy Brady (“Baby talk, baby talk; it’s a wonder you can walk”) all day long. It’s the only thing that pops in my head as I’ve been forcing myself to post a blog entry.

It’s been a week and a half since my last post. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I was unsure of what I had to say was compelling or interesting or relevant to anyone else but me. I over-analyzed drafts of blog entries. I edited and re-edited every thought in my head so that I didn’t even write those thoughts into a draft. I read other blogs and tweets and online articles. I’ve been too busy busying myself to make myself sit down and write something. Anything. I’m looking for perfection and coming up with nothing. Fear of suckiness pushes me into inaction.

Writing advice books say to just write and eventually, with practice, the writing gets better. And yet, this is the blah that is coming out. Nothing new. Nothing compelling. No one ever said first steps were pretty. And lucky you, dear reader, you get to witness the stumbles, trips and baby walk.

The re-launch of the re-start of the second attempt to blog

Nothing like getting laid off to spur me into a re-renewed blogging habit. Nearly a month ago, I was informed that my position at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University is being eliminated as part of a cost-cutting measure to avoid extreme budget constraints in the next few fiscal years. More than 25 percent of our organization is being let go. I am an alumna of the Center’s master degree programs and a donor. A generous donor. And a good employee to boot. And my job is still being eliminated. I’ve been laid off, or in university terms, I am going through a “reduction in force.” I am grateful that I have three months to figure out what to do next with my professional life.

In his book What Should I Do With My Life?, Po Bronson profiles dozens of individuals who have asked this question, oftentimes during crossroads in their lives. Often making drastic changes. A lawyer becomes a baker. An undecided becomes a Buddhist monk. I read that book and felt uninspired. Of course these folks were able to look deep into their own selves and search their souls. They often had professional degrees or financially supportive families or nothing to lose.

Now here I am, faced with the same question, and late-to-be-realized by me, in a similar position as those profiled in Bronson’s book. I have advanced degrees. I have a spouse with a financially supportive job, and even better, a personally supportive attitude. I have nothing to lose. I can be discerning and demanding and pleasantly capable of not settling for less. I can choose what I want to do with my life.

The possibilities scare me because I might fail. Or I might succeed.