That headline is something I say often to my coaching clients who are afraid of facing their own creative growth, from submitting a book to an agent, singing their own song, or asking for a raise at work.
Now I have to say it to myself.
One of the reasons I write a blog is to show that living a creative life is rich in delight and challenges, equally mixed with mistakes and failure. How you respond shapes your life.
For years, I have envied another writer, whom I will call “Jess” for anonymity’s sake. Every time I went to a book signing, I’ve admired how Jess read parts of the book and answers questions. And each time, I prepare a carefully-phrased sentence of praise while I’m waiting for the book to be signed. Sometime Jess’s eyes would glance up at me while I was speaking, but never a reply. OK, sure, I get it, book signings are not easy. I’ve done several, and it’s hard to make each person feel special. But Jess smiled, laughed and talked with others in line. Just not me.
Jess has a giant following on Facebook. I was jealous of that, too. I would be a big fat, total liar if I did not admit to drooling over the compliments, the praise, the adulation over every idea, goof, and joke Jess posted. None of my comments ever got a “like.” Jess replied to a lot of fans, but never to me.
I could go into a lot more detail, but even I am getting embarrassed here. This has gone on for years. I’ve never received a crumb of encouragement and still, I was an eager follower, a fangirl, a waggy-tail dog rolling over and exposing my belly to Jess’s cat-like cool indifference.
In a recent conversation with a friend, I confessed my jealousy and self-loathing that I could not free myself of this feeling of lack. Being less than. My friend’s casual reply threw a switch in my head. The idea slowly opened in my brain–I was not jealous of Jess’s writing ability, or popularity, or giant inner circle.
Nope. I wanted approval. I wanted a knowing smile of “we are both writers,” I wanted . . . permission to be cool. Yes, I wanted Jess to like me when I could not like myself.
When you are a writer, there are moments, hours, maybe days and weeks when you do not like yourself. When you are backing into a hard truth and not watching the distance you are covering. There is no way around this. The only way is through.
For years, what I had thought of as jealousy was nothing more than looking for love. Hoping to get a bit of sparkle from someone else. Thinking that satisfaction was the light of another’s smile making the hard work of being a writer a bit brighter.
Being a writer is often lonely. Because I love solitude, I am often my harshest critic. And it is tough to love yourself while you are also being a critic. Here is what I did: when I cannot manage to love myself, I give myself permission to love the creativity that is working on me. When I love part of myself, the rest isn’t that far off, and not that unlovable.
But it took me years to get to this point. The next step is knowing that I will have that old needy feeling again. Just because I recognize it does not mean it will go away. But like a scraped knee, it will form a scab, then itch, then the scab will fall off, leave a red mark that will fade over time.
For now, I went to Facebook and stopped following Jess. Right now, the light reflected from that part of the world is a little to rosy, too tempting. I’m going to stand over here, in my own light. There’s enough of it left so I can keep writing.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who grateful for the love of creativity.