“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” I love that quote by Kurt Vonnegut, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he was a writer. To set out to write a novel for the first time is a cliff-jump. Anytime you set out to try something you’ve never done before it’s like jumping off a cliff. With no parachute and no wings. Except the ones you grow on the way down.
When I talk to friends and acquaintances about the fact that I’ve written a book and that it’s getting published, most of them seem impressed or astonished that I’ve been able to make it this far. And don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the time and effort I’ve put into my writing career, but I also don’t see it as that extraordinary. I decided what I wanted to do, and I did it. Is that so unusual?
But…I guess…it is. All of us have dreams that end up ditched in the gutter. Why? Why don’t we even try to achieve them? Sometimes circumstances outside of our control get in the way: financial hardship, health issues, obligations. But more often, we get in our own way. We are afraid. Afraid to take the leap of faith, to trust in ourselves, to risk failure or vulnerability. It’s safer to stay in our comfort zone where we know that we can handle what comes our way.
What else gets in the way? Self-doubt. Feeling we aren’t good enough/smart enough/rich enough/productive enough/etc. to accomplish our dreams. That we don’t measure up to the people around us, or worse, to who we want to be. That we can’t start working on our dreams until we are _________ enough.
Right now, I am close to publication. Close to the point where my work will be out there for the world to see, to judge as a success or failure, to love or hate, to debate, critique, and pick apart. And so I feel those things—fear and self-doubt. They are there and ever present. But they also aren’t crippling me. And it makes me wonder why. Why was I able to overcome them?
First, perhaps, it was a gut thing. A feeling, a passion, that I could do this. I was recently listening to a podcast interview with Joanna Penn, who is a wildly successful fiction and non-fiction author. She was joking about how new authors come with what she called a “heavy dose of over-confidence.” It’s true. I have it. You have to have it to dare to dream.
But more importantly, I think it was because though my goals were measurable in an external way my main goal was an internal one: don’t be satisfied with the status quo if it isn’t fulfilling. Inside me was desire to set aside fear and self-doubt and try to develop a life that makes me more happy and more fulfilled. Perhaps try and fail, but perhaps try and succeed. Without the try, there only ever could be failure. (Sorry Yoda, but I think you sold the try a little short). Isn’t the chance to achieve your dream worth the risk of failure? For me, it was. And even though I’m just on the path, and who knows where it will take me, it feels damn good. It feels like a win.
I also think I’ve been able to overcome fear and self-doubt because my external goals were generally things that I had control over. They weren’t totally dependent on what other people think or other people’s acceptance.
First, what was my short term goal? To sell a million copies? Nope. To write and publish a book. I could accomplish that even if I self-published and never sold a copy. I will hold it in my hands knowing I created it. Selling more than 10 copies to my immediate family will be just icing on the cake. Do I want to sell a million copies? Of course. Will part of me be disappointed if I don’t? Yup. But it’s made better by the fact that I’ve already accomplished my goal.
Second, I have a long-term perspective. I’m not chasing instant gratification; I’m playing the long game. It takes the pressure off tremendously. If I could write and publish a book every year, by the time I retire from lawyering, I will have thirty books! That’s pretty awesome. Even if they weren’t all runaway hits, if I’m doing things right and improving my craft as I go along, I should have some sales to show for my efforts. And how cool to have a legacy of writing as a part of my life. To leave that behind. So even if my first book doesn’t find much success, maybe my second will. Or my seventh. Or twelfth. You get the picture.
And so there is is. I love being on this journey. Even if I’m like Edison who takes a thousand tries to figure out how to build a light bulb, it’s ok. I’m still gonna try.
You can reach for it too. Your dream. You know what it is. What you really wish you could be doing when you are typing away in your office, or rushing out of the house, or stuck in traffic. It feels so good to step through fear and self-doubt and walk on a path you create for yourself. Even if it’s just the first step, try.