Thursday, May 9, 2013

Giving up and Moving on

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Mental Game."

I came across this post, "15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy." It's a spot-on list. Thankfully, neither chocolate nor alcohol were included. If you are struggling to follow your path, to get that first novel written, to submit a first short story or wavering in whatever it is that you dream of doing, you should go read this post. Even if the last sentence doesn't describe you, go read it. Everyone can get something from it, so go on, read it now. Plus, this post won't make as much sense otherwise.

I'm going to write about the things from the post's list that spoke to me the most, as a writer, and as a person struggling to carve a place for myself in this world.

Give up your need for Control

This has been a big one for me, in accepting myself as a writer and allowing myself to pursue my dream. An artist's life is full of unknowns. Will your work be any good? Will it appeal to anyone enough for them to purchase your art? Will you be able to pay the bills?

My corporate career gave me a sense of more than a modicum of control (one might argue, an illusion of control, but that's another topic). I knew that, if I completed XYZ task, I would be paid ABC dollars. There was a career path I followed and I had constant feedback and could know, to an extent, how successful I could be.

I had to accept that pursuing writing full-time would mean giving up my financial freedom and control, perhaps for good (my kick-ass husband pays my bills, now*). A one-paycheck household is riskier, though. I also had to come to terms with the fact that I can't know how good my writing is until I spend a lot of time and effort writing and put my work out there for feedback. Even if my writing is good, there are no guarantees I'll ever sell a single story or make one thin dime. The structure and safety-nets of a more conventional career just don't exist for a writer, and I cling to my fantasy that control means escaping pain like a drowning man will clutch at straws.

Give up your self-defeating self-talk

Holy hell I am guilty of negative self-talk. Damn the cliche, I am my own worst enemy. For years, I've woven a detailed story about why I can't be a writer: I'm not that clever, I'm not that disciplined, I'll never be anything but a dreamer, I'll never measure up, and on and on and on.

When I sit down to write, I have to first do battle with that little writing demon who likes to tell me how hard it is, how crap my sentence structure is, that my stories are derivative tripe - you get the picture. I have to slay that little shit every single time.

Over the last two years, just doing, moving forward with the plans that scare me the most, seems to have quieted the voices of self-doubt slightly. Every story written, shrinks the demon. Still, I'm not very nice to myself, and that gets in the way.

Give up your limiting beliefs

This one coincides with the previous one in a way. I kept telling myself that writing was too hard, too competitive, too out-of-reach and not very sensible. Successful writing careers are as realistic as unicorns - that sort of thing. Jeez, I sound like a damned librarian.

I used to believe that I could do things, that things would happen, and usually, somehow, but not always in the way I expected, they would. Somewhere along the way, that sense of belief got beaten out of me. Not sure how to repair that damage. I've taken on board a metric ton of fears.

Give up living your life to other people's expectations

I almost want to qualify this one with a "real or imagined." I'm sure I sometimes project my fears onto other people, and decide they are judging me, if that makes any sense. For example, I assumed people would think me a lazy, delusional dreamer if I chucked it all to pursue my dream of being a writer. A lot of my fears about leaving my career had to do with feeling like I'd be letting people down by abandoning the corporate ladder. Here I was, a woman making her way in corporate America, making oodles more money than most everyone else she graduated from college with - well, wasn't that the very definition of success? Ugh, it doesn't sound so hot when I write it out like this.

But, dreams of scaling the corporate heights and smashing through glass ceilings, they weren't my dreams. I honestly don't give a shit about that stuff. I'm not going to lie, it was very hard leaving that kind of money and financial stability behind, but I had my own dreams and they were dying terrible deaths so that I could be a "success" as defined in my money-loving culture.

Then there are the very real expectations people have of me, beyond societal pressures. I've told a couple of friends about my novel writing, and it wasn't a great response. I got that look you get when you are slowly backing away from a pissed-off, soft-ball sized tarantula that you've interrupted as it goes about its morning crawl through your camp site, AKA: its former home (oh, you haven't had that experience? There's a look, trust me.) I suppose, if you're going to be an artist, you have to expect that some people will not think much of that choice, for whatever reason.

These are just a few of the 15 things to give up, and I completely agree with every item on the list. In fact, I think I'll have to print out the list and tape it to my mirror for a while.

What about you? Did you agree with the 15 things to give up? Do you struggle with any of these? Or, are you giving my post the tarantula look?

*Yes, I realize that I'm very privileged that we don't have big expenses (no kids, for example) and that we can afford to live off the husband's paycheck. I'm not suggesting that everyone can or should do this. For me, leaving my career was still about choosing to be dependent on my husband and losing my financial freedom and letting go of my identity of "successful business woman," not so much about taking on a financial hardship. I had this ideal about women paying their own way in life, but sometimes life is also about allowing others to help you. It does put all the financial pressure on my husband, which I still struggle with. I'm a terrible housewife, too!

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