Dealing With Doubt – Keep Getting Up
Was there ever a time in your life when you let doubt stop you from going for your heart’s desire? What about letting the voices of critics and well-meaning advisors crush your dreams?
It’s definitely happened to me.
When I was in high school, I had a notion that I might like to be a writer. Considering my history, it wasn’t a far-fetched idea. At around 9 years old, when I realized you can rhyme “house” with “mouse” and “horse” with “of course,” I fell in love with writing poetry. I composed the silliest poems just so I could rhyme the words. My mother and her friends would read them aloud and tease me, but they always encouraged me to keep writing. Later on, I enjoyed playing with the various poetic forms they taught in school – haiku, sonnets, rhyming couplets, unrhymed prose, etc. Naturally, I excelled in English class. I particularly loved 8th grade and my teacher Mrs. Crutchfield because one of her major assignments was to write a “portfolio” of poems. For several years during high school, my poems were selected for publication in the school’s annual literary magazine.
After discussing my college plans with several influential older adults in my life at the time, I decided not to pursue an English degree. I kept being advised to become credentialed as a school teacher as a back-up plan, and I did not like that idea at all. Because of the doubt that came from those conversations, I did the logical thing and chose to major in business. After taking some classes in subjects I really didn’t care about such as computer science (which involved Pascal programming, by the way!) and economics, I still gave into the doubts and changed to what I thought was a good compromise, communications. Then, when I had to give speeches in front of the class, I dropped that idea. I was terrified about public speaking.
Isn’t it funny how life works out? Today, I run my own business and do a lot of teaching and public speaking.
Anyway, at last, I jumped into the program that I really wanted to do all along, English with an emphasis on creative writing. My thinking had evolved to what I still think to this day. Getting a college degree is about getting an education; it’s not necessarily about getting a vocation.
So, I changed my major again, and in short order got taught one of the hard-knocks lessons about life. I learned that it was one thing to write and be praised for the work that sprung from my young mind by those who loved me no matter how good or bad the writing was. It was quite another to be judged by those who don’t know you and are not motivated by relationship.
Even though my poetry had changed and matured over the years, and even though I’d found my own voice to a certain extent, my talent was still very raw and undeveloped. No one had pushed me to fine-tune my craft at the intellectual level that college required. When it came to increasing my writing skills for literary research papers, yes. I was fortunate to have a wonderful high school teacher who pushed me to reach my potential in this area. However, when it came time to pushing me in my poetry, no one really had.
As a result, I didn’t know how to take the criticism. I offered my poems as though they were little pieces of my heart to these strangers in the classroom – the grad students, teachers and fellow undergrad students – who, in their intellectual frame of mind, ripped up those little pieces into smaller pieces. Talk about being crushed by doubt! I let that experience squash my enthusiasm for writing for a long time. In fact, I stopped all creative writing for more than fifteen years. I didn’t even keep a journal.
Then I read Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones. In a chapter called “Doubt Is Torture,” she talks about a friend and her Zen teacher:
A friend of mine was planning to move to Los Angeles with the hope of connecting with the music industry. He was a musician and songwriter, and it was time for him to follow his aspirations. Katagiri Roshi [Zen Master] said to him, “Well, if you’ve decided to go, let’s see what your attitude is.”
“Well, I’ll try my best. I figure I have to give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I’ll just accept it.”
Roshi responded, “That’s the wrong attitude. If they knock you down, you get up. If they knock you down again, get up. No matter how many times they knock you down, get up again. That is how you should go.”
Inspired by Goldberg’s book, as well as by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I began to write and write and write. Now I can’t stop writing. I must write every day, or I feel like the day isn’t productive or complete. I’m excited about my third book coming out in early 2014. I’m excited about posting these musings here on my blog. I’m excited about the monthly articles I submit to OMTimes and all of the other writing projects I get to do.
What I’ve come to know is that practice leads to more confidence. You just do it, and you get better. Then, when you listen to what the critics and well-meaning advisors say, you use your discernment to let go of what doesn’t help you get your dreams.
Sure, I still sometimes have doubts, but now I know to do as Katagiri Roshi advised. I keep getting up.
Angela Loëb helps people rediscover and use their gifts so they bring who they really are to what they do in life. http://about.me/angelarloeb __________________________________________________________