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One Thing I Would Explain to My Younger Self

I have attempted this exercise multiple times and find that there is too much for me to say in a single letter without it turning into a book (what a shock!). But I’ll focus on a single point I wish my younger self could understand.

The fear doesn’t go away.

It really doesn’t.

I know you think that the fear means that there is something wrong. That all of your worries and the thousands of rabbit trails what-iffing across your mind and taking you down dark and frightening paths require your attention. That somehow because they exist, you should respond in kind and be afraid.

But simply because you feel afraid does not mean you have to act afraid. And not every fear has to be resolved through mental examination.

In fact, I’ll just tell you upfront, you can’t.

The only thing you can do with fear is ground yourself and move forward.

If fear has its way, you will never do anything, and it gets progressively worse. Little by little, it will nickel and dime your time away. Don’t believe the whisper that it will let you live more in time.

Now it isn’t that fear is evil and wants to destroy you. It’s trying to keep you safe. And once you understand that, it helps. Because you aren’t up against the conquering dominating entity that wants to control your life but the suffocating force that whispers it just wants to protect you. It is so persuasive because it speaks some truth.

And the greatest lie it tells is that you have to wait until the fear is resolved, until it is satisfied, to move forward.

You will wait forever.

I’m sorry.

I know that’s not what you want to hear because fear can be so painful and uncomfortable. And when you take action, it may get worse.

But you have to take action.

Now, let me caveat. Sometimes your fear will tell you good things and important things (again this is why it is so persuasive). But unless you are literally in a jungle or a wilderness and there is literally something that wants to kill or eat you, inaction is generally not the right response (and even then that choice is sometimes deadly). Constantly living in your comfort zone is not going to get you where you want to be.

And deep down you know this. You don’t want to stagnate. You don’t want to hide. You want to reach your fullest potential.

So what do you do about the fear?

Well, you can suckerpunch it and jump in headfirst. I’ve found that that works pretty well for somethings. Sometimes you can even shock the fear and leave it behind. (This is my preferred method; not every situation allows such a response.)

But on those occasions when the fear grabs you and fills your vein with some sort of supervillain freezing fluid, you’ve got to take a subtler tactic. Outline what you’re going to do. Ground yourself in the present moment and counter the negative what-ifs with positive ones. Give yourself small actionable steps. Then make yourself take them.

If you’re really struggling, give yourself a reward for getting through the tasks. Something that you would like. (And for goodness’s sake, follow through on the reward. As your future self, I know good and well you don’t. You wouldn’t do that to a friend, so don’t do it to yourself. Reward and care for yourself for getting through the insane challenges you set. You’ll get even farther if you care for yourself.)

There will be a rush of adrenaline as you realize what you’re doing. That you are breaking free. That you’re moving toward your goals and not being suffocated by this friend on your back.

But more often than not, the questions are going to come. Now I know that you did press on in many cases, but you always thought there was something wrong with you because the questions and the fear didn’t go away.

It’s part of who you are. It’s part of the way your mind works. You are always questioning, and fear often speaks the loudest. And the fact that you have been pressing through the fear and pursuing your hopes and dreams is wonderful.

I just know you could go so much farther if you would stop questioning “why does my brain work this way?” and “is there something to this?” and “how can I fix myself so this isn’t part of me?”

The fear sticks around. One, five, even fifty victories won’t always remove it. In fact, fear is that frenemy who moves the goalposts all the time. Generally without much warning. But some part of it does get easier with practice. It’s not that the fear is silenced but rather that experience and your confidence grow as well, and they counter fear’s response.

What about the failures though?

Oh yes. They’ll try to encourage fear to be even more protective. And here is where you have to get even firmer.

Failure is as much a part of life as fear. If you can change your perspective to focus on the fact that failure comes and it brings with it the opportunity to learn, then that’s better. It makes the failure easier to stomach. Understand that it is part of life, do your best, learn what you can, stop beating yourself up ad nauseum.

You can do this. You know what you’ve got to do, and you’re doing it. I wish I could tell you that the fear went away. I can’t. But I can tell you that in the future you are more confident. You have so much more experience. And you have better discernment in determining whether something deserves your attention as well as the severity of a particular failure.

You’re still scared in the future. The difference is you don’t obsess quite as long before you act. And that is making a tremendous difference.

Pushing On Through the Discomfort

One of the key points that Jeff Goins makes in his book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, is that practicing in public is essential. He uses Picasso as his primary example, featuring his association with the esteemed Gertrude Stein and other magnificent creators of the time. While I don’t seriously want to live in another time period (pretty sure, I’d get myself killed in record time), I would have loved to be around such creativity and expression. (If I ever get to time travel and go meet people, I have a ranked list. Come on, science! I have the best adventure planned!)

Anyway practicing in public has been one of the hardest elements for me. Part of it is because I struggle with marketing. I am getting better with it. In fact, I am miles ahead of where I once was.

For the most part, this is a head struggle. An unfortunate belief that I have to be invited to participate as well as exposure to individuals who are exceptionally annoying with their self-promotion hangs on. My mind went to extremes in its assessment of what an author had to do, even though I had examples of creators who did it well. I suspect that the desire to be asked (because that means one is wanted) is the most deeply rooted.

Ultimately that is rooted in fear or pride. I suspect mine is a mix. I mean, it’s nice to be asked and wanted, but it also means that there isn’t as much risk.

So yes, I have been pushing forward with addressing this fear, unease, and discomfort. It’s annoying that it has taken this long. I would like to see faster progress. But, for anyone who is still in the early stages of the journey, it does get better. It’s not a fast process. And it requires intentionality.

That’s probably the most frustrating and yet encouraging part of all this. It’s a process. It doesn’t get overcome with a single win, but neither is it destroyed with a single loss. Each day, it has to be addressed (or at least most days; it is a faster process if you do it more regularly). One of my tools is a to do list that breaks down what all needs to happen with set deadlines.

In addition to this, I am doing the “write 500, practice in public” challenge.

Now, as I mentioned, I’ve been writing every single day for years now. Over twenty-five years at this point. It’s almost always been in a fairly quiet way. A lot of days, no one sees anything I write. But for a time, I wrote and posted every day on Wattpad. Some good did come from that, but I need to do better about focused practicing in public.

See, where I always dropped the ball (often knowingly) was in not advertising what I was doing. I’d promote other people, but not my own stories. And it literally only takes seconds to customize a link and prep a tweet or post for the various social media platforms. Writing the chapter or blog post takes far more time.

So to get better in this regard, these are the simple tasks that I am going to take to make my practicing in public more meaningful.

  • Post at least once a day
  • Promote at least one piece I have completed
  • Invest time in choosing good keywords
  • Correct my categories (blog specific)
  • Choose tags for better focus (includes research)
  • Use the customized hashtags I started branding

There is more that I can do and will do in the future to make this more meaningful and effective. It will also be in conjunction with my other advertising and marketing journeys as I continue to learn more about Facebook and AMS and so forth.

So what about you? What is your most persistent challenge with succeeding in your writing dream?

Bold Kindness and Gentle Words

It all started with my mother. It is her habit to speak kindly and gently to everyone, even though she is excruciatingly shy. Talking to strangers used to send her into panics though now she manages it better. But that terror, despite it being a powerful force, has never stopped her from being compassionate.

girl writing a letter with ink penThe other thing it has not stopped her from doing is sharing encouragement with people. Sometimes it is with handwritten notes. Other times, it is just the spoken word. And always the truth. She has the ability to see beauty in practically everything and to find even the smallest germs of goodness and praise them. Most don’t realize what strength it takes for her to do this. Some call her naive or a Pollyanna. But she is always sincere. There is life in her words, and it seeps into the soul.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone receives her kindly. While this has happened on more than one occasion, I remember one incident quite vividly.

There was a church event of some sort around Easter. Perhaps the Mother Daughter Banquet. After the event, I saw my daisies-1373075mother step up to the speaker. She thanked the woman for sharing and told her what a beautiful job she had done and precisely how it had affected her and what a gift it was. The woman’s eyes welled up with tears, and she thanked my mother.

As I stood there watching, it seemed to me that all my mother had done was notice little things that the speaker had woven into her speech and shared how it had affected her. It wasn’t much, yet it made such a difference. And then my mother gave the speaker’s hands a quick squeeze.

Other women stood nearby. As soon as my mother and the speaker were out of earshot, they just shook their heads. Some of them laughed into their hands. And then they started making fun of my mother. Because of what she had said. Because of how she said it. Because obviously she had only said it to get attention. Because she was such a silly foolish woman. On and on they went.

What they didn’t know was that I had heard every word they said as I stood around the corner of the painted concrete wall. And just as my mother’s words strengthened the speaker’s spirit, these women’s words poisoned mine. To see how they mocked my mother who had done nothing but speak tenderly to another human being and encourage her on her path was devastating.

I didn’t tell her what they said. That would have only furthered their cruelty. But some small part of me hated those women.

vintage-1029413Yet it turned out that these women had not responded atypically. Again and again, I have heard people speak words of kindness and then others stab them for it, almost always suggesting that there is another agenda or that the person is false or foolishly naïve or silly in some way. As if the mere fact that one is kind is proof of weakness.

These people dragged her down in their discussion, nitpicking her words and the way that she said them along with her accent and her mannerisms. It was beyond despicable.

I even lost a friend over it when I was in college. This friend was an artist who came from a very tragic home. She poured her emotions into her art in vivid watercolors and oil paintings as well as charcoal sketches.

When my mother visited, she looked at this friend’s artwork and said, “you are such a preciously gifted woman. Don’t ever forget that.” She continued on, pointing out the things that my friend had done well. When my friend mentioned something from her past and some of the horrible things people had said to her, my mother said, “Don’t believe them. You are a lovely woman, and I mean that sincerely. Please don’t ever doubt your value.”

blue-925209When my mother left, my friend then looked at me, rolled her eyes, and said, “Your mom is so fake. Can you believe she’d say something like that? What a c***” She then proceeded to mimic my mother in an even more offensive manner.

(It should not be surprising that this friend and I parted ways permanently within minutes of that conversation.)

As before, I did not mention this to my mother, not wanting to burden her with these odd displays of cruelty and mockery. Of course, as it turned out, she was aware of far more than I knew. Apparently the bullying was something she had endured all her life with many believing her to be false, stupid, naïve, or just too much of a Pollyanna. She knew that speaking kindly and offering generosity often led to people assuming the worst in some form or another. Yet she never let that stop her because she knew that what she did made a difference to those who received it, and she could not control how it was perceived. It was hard, she admitted when I asked her about it. But she wasn’t going to let cruel or misguided people change her. So she carried on in her own shy and gentle way, serving the Lord and ministering to all He put in her path.

Apparently there is a certain measure of kindness which the rabbit-913550world expects from people (and for the record, it’s precious small). Display that and nothing more, and you will pass by without much scrutiny. Indeed, you may even be rewarded with assertions that you are, in fact, a good person. But show too much, and the world may grow suspicious. Do it consistently, and you make yourself a target with some.

It may not even be the majority. As I think back on it, those who did respond harshly or cruelly were far fewer than those who were genuinely touched. It just felt so much larger at the time. And there will always be those who just live to put others down for their own enjoyment and self-validation.

But it has taken me so long to extract that poison splinter. And there have been far too many times when I am ashamed to say that I have stowed away my words and locked them up for fear of being thought insincere or naïve or some other silly thing.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized something very

What we say is a reflection of ourselves.

important and actually knew it in my heart. When those people spoke, they were not reflecting what my mother had done nor any true reality of what was within her soul. Instead, they shone light on what was inside themselves and reflected it out for all to see.

Not one of them could point to anything my mother had done to make them believe she was false or that she didn’t mean what she had said. Their words were merely said in a moment, perhaps because her kindness made them feel guilty. Perhaps because tearing down someone made them feel good. Perhaps because they just wanted to laugh at someone’s expense.

So often the charge to act without care to what others think is used in reference to bold or frightening tasks or even things that just seem rather impractical or out of the ordinary like wearing dragon wings out at the park while you sketch your imaginings. In church, it often includes sharing the Gospel or letting it be known that you believe in Jesus in a public setting. In high school, it generally involves not taking drugs and standing against those who offer them. This charge takes many shapes and forms, but it is often something portrayed as being quite large and rather frightening.
water-830374But this charge does extend to encouraging people, including strangers and acquaintances. It takes courage to be kind and believe the best. To reach out and brush the hand of another and say, “It’s all right. You’ve got this. Now keep going. You did that so well.”

Over the years, I have become bolder with my words and more confident in the sharing even when I have received my own share of mocking responses in return. My mother’s example is a fine one, and her consistency and tenderness is something I admire. She epitomizes that lifestyle of grace and compassion that I so often struggle to live out.

This world is cruel. Whether one is a tall poppy or a low lying moss, it seems that something or someone always wants to cut you down and grind you up. If you can speak kindness and life into another, then you should because I can guarantee that many others, sometimes even their own minds, will be telling Depositphotos_48612307_originalthem the opposite.

So speak, share, and love. Encourage and build people up. Don’t let the fear of mockery or derision keep you from sharing words of kindness and encouragement.

Indeed this world could use a lot more bold kindness and many more sincere but gentle words.

 

Musings on What I Fear, Good and Bad

Tuesday night on the Wattpadres chat on Twitter, we all had a great time talking about horror and the things that terrify us. (A number of people also met an untimely end at the tiny jaws of vicious dust mites…who would have thought the dust mites would end more people in the haunted house than the zombies, vampires, and werewolves combined!)

One of the questions was what terrifies us most. Personally, I find the subject of fear intriguing especially since fear can limit and shape us in ways we don’t anticipate. For quite awhile now, I’ve practiced the Month of Fear, which has become the Year of Fear. I try to do at least one thing that makes me uncomfortable or afraid or at least pushes me out of my comfort zone every day. On the whole living in fear is something that I don’t believe to be biblical, healthy, or wise. So, since I am trying to live consciously and fully, I attack my fears and discomfort when I can.

Initially in my challenges, I chose fears that I could confront and that negatively impacted me in some way. My fear of cameras and having my picture taken was connected unfortunate incidents, bullying, and more. In confronting that fear, I attempted to tackle something that held me back and to not be hypocritical when I tell my amazing students and mentees to be bold and courageous.

Then I started to wonder about other fears. The deeper fears. The ones that really shaped me. True, my uneasiness around spiders and men with blue eyes have shaped part of who I am and came from specific incidents. My camera and mirror avoidance has resulted in certain consequences. But there are other fears…the kind that truly send chills through me and that actually change my behavior in more meaningful ways.

So what do I fear…deep down…it isn’t death. I know where I’m going and that it is but a transition. But a living death of the mind, whether my own or of others, that is horrifying. Particularly when it is multiplied.

I am terrified of being delusional, of losing my capacity to think or respond, and of being trapped in mass hysteria (doesn’t matter whether I’m part of it or am someone aware of it, it’s all terrifying). I value my mind and my independence. I love being able to think and break things apart to see how they work and understand them better. I hate being wrong, but I will take being wrong if I can still think, reason, and understand.

So…should I be tackling those fears? Targeting these core fears seems far more difficult. In fact, I don’t even know how one would begin to put oneself in those situations or whether those are fears that one necessarily wants to lose.

Fear can serve a purpose and be valuable. My fear of losing my own mind and mental capacity as well as being caught up in mass hysteria propels me to take care of my mind, conduct my own research, and remain aware. In this case, the fear is not so much crippling as it is cautionary. True, sometimes it takes unhealthy forms. When I go into a room, I’m almost always considering an escape route of some time. And if I’m stuck in a hall with lots of people or waiting in a long line (like at an amusement park), I do sometimes wonder about what would happen if some catastrophe struck such as the zombie apocalypse or a rabid wolf or a fire. It’s the same thing that happens when I’m sitting in a tunnel in my car, waiting for traffic to move along and wondering what the solution would be if water started spraying through the bricks. (Social etiquette point here: don’t share these thoughts with anyone around you unless you’re certain they’ll find it just as intriguing as you.)

Perhaps this is why I enjoy psychological horror stories as opposed to straight up monster movies as well as my general preference for complex strategizing villains. Maybe in a small way I am confronting that fear.

Regardless, I don’t plan on confronting my fear of losing my mind or being trapped in a violent mob or hysterical crowd. I think I can live with those fears. But I may see about researching possible survival methods and strategies, and I’ll continue to do what I can to keep my own mind healthy and aware.

 

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