Updated: Dec 24, 2019
I've always been a decent writer. Better when I was younger than now. That's what happens when you don't practice a skill. It wanes. Atrophies.
You get worse at it.
And I've gotten worse at writing.
Largely it's been fear that's held me back. That's kept me from practicing.
Fear of being bad at it.
I guess not even being bad, but just not being perfect.
Perfectionism Will Destroy You
I think what happened was that at some point I attached my worth to my ability to write.
When I was in Elementary School, I had a teacher, Mr. Johnson. He was tall and loved the Beatles. He was nice. And I think he was a good teacher. But to be fair, I don't remember a lot of detail from those days.
Except one piece.
Mr. Johnson asked us to do a writing project. Just to write a story. To make one up.
So I did. I can't remember much of it, except maybe a magical necklace that some little boy had found that gave him superpowers. Something like that.
But what I remember most was the way the Mr. Johnson seemed so genuinely astonished at the way I had written that piece.
He walked over to me, pulled a chair next to mine, and sat down. I think I probably thought I had done something wrong.
But I hadn't. Not at all.
He proceeded to praise me like I had never been praised by a teacher before. The way I described the story, the detail and emotion I had included, really wowed him. And his encouraging words moved me.
Perhaps this wasn't the first time writing had made such a profound impact on me, but it's the oldest one I can remember.
Maybe it was around here that I connected my writing skill to my worth and identity. If I did well, I would be praised. I would be adored.
I would be enough. And I would know it, because people would tell me.
You Are Enough
Of course I am not criticizing or blaming Mr. Johnson for putting pressure on me.
I did that.
Not on purpose. But I still did it.
He did what great teachers do. Encouraged and inspired.
There is this quote from one of my favorite childhood movies called Cool Runnings. In the movie, Irv Blitzer is asked why he had cheated in the Olympics after having won a gold medal previously.
"A gold medal is a wonderful thing," he said. "But if you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it."
This idea of 'enough' has really struck a deep chord with me lately. Over the last few years.
I think that so many of us are chasing it. We feel not enough. And if we can just work hard enough or long enough or do enough cool or impressive things, then we can be enough. And then we can rest.
Then we can be happy and just rest.
But it never comes.
Because we aren't addressing the problem at the root: if we aren't enough without it, we'll never be enough with it.
I didn't feel like enough, and I thought if I could just write well enough then maybe I would. If people praised me enough then I would. If someone else could convince me that I was wrong, then I would feel enough.
I stopped writing because I was afraid I wasn't going to be good enough, and there was such an enormous pressure every time I sat down at a blank computer screen. Every blink of that cursor was like a tiny reminder that I might not be able to find the words to be impressive.
Well, I have been working on my own traumas and demons and not enoughness for a long time now, and I guess it's time to start writing again.
To let whatever I do end up writing be whatever it ends up being.
Imperfect. Flawed. Sometimes insightful. Other times boring. Maybe inspiring.
But always enough.
Just like me.
P.S. I did write a little book about being enough this year. It's called, go figure, You Are Enough, and you can get it here.