A few days ago, as I mindlessly stepped into the shower with one hand occupied by a large bottle of body wash, my foot slipped, causing my face to careen into the side of the hanging soap dish. The tumble, while relatively minor compared to the catastrophe it could have been, immediately made me burst into a loud, ugly cry.
Aside from the painfully large bruise on my shin and a knot above my left eye, it wasn’t the unexpected ass kicking that prompted this sudden burst of emotion. I woke up that day, and the three days prior, with a gnawing sense that I was generally sucking in all areas of my life, and the shock of physical pain seemed to suddenly bring all these emotions to the very raw surface. I was consumed by a mixture of fear and guilt, compounded by an overwhelming feeling of self-doubt.
Before that point, I had been relatively upbeat, sending out pitch letters and charting out a month’s worth of business goals that I was actually excited about. Then, I was struck by one, panic-inducing thought: What if I’m never noticed?
In writing, there is a well-deserved sense of pride that comes from structuring words in a way that brings the physical and emotional world to life. But that satisfaction is one-dimensional if, as writers, we are both the creator and the audience. Writing doesn’t come full-circle until there is someone consuming said writing and having some type of reaction to it.
As solitary as it seems, there are multiple players in a good piece of writing.
Therefore, it’s not just about creating – it’s about hoping someone will notice your creation. It’s about validation and being recognized as a well-deserved player in the game. (If that sounds exactly like the ego speaking, yes, it often is.)
Writing may be personal, but sharing it is all business. And what if I’m not good enough at the business to ever be noticed?
Since I started my full-time, frenzied journey into creating a business and meaningful work life, I’ve thought of at least ten different directions I could venture. I’ve come up with ideas that, at the time, seemed to be divinely-produced “aha moments,” only to lose all confidence and the drive to bring them into fruition some 24 hours later.
My fear is I will never stumble upon a plan of action with any real possibility of carrying me to where I so desperately want to go and I will spend a lifetime hoping that, eventually, the right person will recognize my work and the possibilities behind it. And, if that day never comes, it won’t because I’m not skilled at writing, but because I didn’t market myself to that person in the right way.
After stumbling through a conversation with my business coach in which I tried to put words to the overwhelming feeling of self-doubt I had been battling, he summarized it perfectly – “You feel unnoticeable.”
This, he explained, is a limiting belief created with the purpose of protecting yourself. There is a payoff to being unnoticed.
Yes, I thought, because in some twisted way, being noticed is equally as terrifying.
Being noticed means allowing yourself – and your writing – to be openly critiqued, picked apart, criticized by anyone, not because they are an authority, but simply because you asked them to read it. Because putting yourself out there means you must in turn have skin thick enough to weather the blowback. Because not everyone will think you’re great, or even mediocre. Some really will believe you aren’t talented enough to be in the game.
Sometimes, hanging out in the waiting room is something we secretly accept because jumping off the ledge opens up the very real possibility that we’ll smack our face or break a limb on the way down. We might speak about feeling stuck, but being stuck is just a little bit easier to stomach than being in a free-fall.
This need to protect yourself, my coach explained, is well-intentioned. However, in the future, we’ll need to push you to move forward, knowing protection can be found in other ways. You are noticeable and it’s safe to be noticed.
Playing with this concept that I feel an aversion to both being noticed and being unnoticed, still brings about an overwhelming sense of fear. Because I just want my chance at greatness — I want it to be offered and I want to be brave enough to run with it.
It’s a balancing act of being bold and still carrying a shield should things go awry. But maybe one can’t exist when the other is present. Maybe it really is all or nothing.