"I fear failure. I fear my own inability to focus my energies and creativities on goals and complete them successfully. I have so many goals for a creative life, but I let them get pushed down by this dull sense of inferiority and a deadening of inspiration. I want to write and paint and actively create, but when it comes time to put my pen to the paper, I freeze. My originality seems tainted, my inspiration seems trite, and in my head I hear over and over that there is nothing new under the sun. I begin to think 'Why bother?' when the prospect of mediocrity looks me in the eye." - Me, circa 2003, when I was an idealistic young thing in my early (like, very early, you get me?) twenties.
That's an excerpt from a journal that I found last month after a recent move forced me to sort through all my possessions. When I found this entry, my instinct was to laugh. So melodramatic, that kid! But then I stopped feeling so superior to the young me and acknowledged how terrifying that idea of failure had seemed. And I wanted to give that sweet girl a hug, like the wise older sister I always wanted.
Because failure is coming to her, that poor petrified girl.
Here's the thing: I did a lot of the things the young me would respect. I started a creative business. I started three businesses. No, I started the same business three times until I got it (mostly) right. I invested my heart, my brain, my life savings and every subsequent penny I earned for eight years. I put my whole self into making that thing work. But ultimately I let it go. It did okay, but not well enough. After eight years and more reinventions than Madonna, I walked away. It was a huge relief. And it stung so much.
My husband likes to remind me that failure is a strong word, one that I don't need to apply so forcefully. He's amazing like that. And he's right, too. Some business decisions were bad luck, some a bad fit. Some were honest successes. But some things were failures, there's no way around it, and they still sting sometimes.
When I found that journal entry, I realized something. Aside from the youthful idealism, I was sort of back where I started. My failures--real or perceived--have brought me full circle. For the past few years, I've been iced over with fear.
There's another thing I've done that the young me would appreciate: I wrote a book. I wrote a book that I love. Then I wrote its sequel, and I love it even more. I wrote two books. And I've been sitting on them for four years. All because I'm afraid. I don't want to send them out, only to have them fail.
The young, idealistic me would have some things to say about that. Mainly: Come on, Sarah. Get a grip.
Finding that journal was a good kick in the pants from the younger version of myself, who knew more about resilience than I have for a while. She was scared, sure. Who isn't scared when they're just starting out? Who isn't scared sometimes anyway, even when they've been trudging forward for years? I'm not sure fear is something we ever outgrow. But I've made a decision.
Fear doesn't get to win.
I've been planning to challenge myself to pursuing one new thing every month for a year. I think I just found my theme. Every month I'm going all out in pursuit of my goal. By pursuing one significant accomplishment per month that, when added up at the end of the year, will get me closer to the life I ultimately want to lead. Creating work I care about. Living true to myself. Encouraging others to do the same.
And here are Challenges One and Two:
My plan is to plot my third book throughout the month of October, and write a gloriously putrid first draft during November. I've wanted to start a new book soon, and this challenge comes at the right time. By building up a body of work, I'll feel less like my whole future success hinges on those first two books. And maybe I'll loosen my grip on them before too long. It's not that I think they're Pulitzer material, folks. They're just stories and characters that got me through those eight hard years of entrepreneurship where disappointment was abundant. These books were the shimmering hopeful lining of some very dark clouds. I'm grateful to them. But I need to build the courage to let them go.
Hopefully this is a start.