This Is Your Only Job

Your most important job as a writer—in fact, I would argue your ONLY job—is to keep yourself writing; and trust me, that is job enough.

When you sit down to write, it will seem like all heaven and earth has come down to stop you.

Every distraction, every hesitation, every uncertainty, every insecurity, every dramatic event, every heartsickness will descend on you in the hour you are to write.

You will think to yourself, “Oh, this doesn’t matter much. It can wait until tomorrow. I need to think about it more. It isn’t turning out well, anyway. I’ve written better. Other people have written better. No one will read it. I’m wasting my time. This will never work. I should come back to it later.”

You will be fully convinced all of those things are true (“No really,” you’ll tell me, shaking your head, “In my case it is true!”).

But here’s the thing: none of that is your job to arrange. None of it is your job to coordinate. None of it is your job to ensure. The readership, the organization, the goodness or badness of the writing, how much it will matter in the grand scope of the Universe, whether lives will be changed, even the punctuation and spelling (contrary to popular belief)—none of that is the job of the writer.

exercise

Writing is not an exercise of the mind. It is an exercise of the heart. (tweet this)

Come to think of it, the same is true for life.

There are activities in life that require our minds (the mind is important. I’m not diminishing the mind). But the art and the act of living, for the most part, is a task of the heart. And when it comes to how your life is going to turn out at the end, what people are going to say about you at your funeral, what they’ll write on your gravestone, if a decision you make will be the most brilliant decision ever made on the face of planet Earth or whether it will be a colossal failure, well… that’s not really your job to decide.

Your job is to just keep living, just keep facing forward, just keep moving in the direction you’re led.

Give yourself a break. Tell that inner-critic inside of you (you know the one I’m talking about, the one that says, “are you sure you want to do that? You’re going to screw this all up…) to shut up for once.

Sit down and write. Go out there and live your life. The rest will work itself out later.

Besides, this is your only job.

Some Things To Try When Life Feels Out of Control

We are meant to be powerful. I really believe that. We are born with an innate power over our decisions, power over our bodies and personal space, power over our circumstances and power to organize our surroundings the way we want them to be. We are not all-powerful but we are incredibly powerful.

Yet many of us are living powerless.

Powerless might not be the word you would use for your circumstance. You’d probably say something like, “depressed, anxious, helpless, frustrated, angry” instead.

I wrestled with powerlessness for nearly two decades before I ever called it that.

Powerlessness usually starts because of injustice.

This is how it was for me. My first experience with a loss of power was when someone I trusted took advantage of me when I was very young. At the time, I was a child. I didn’t have power to change my circumstances. I didn’t have the voice to speak up about what I wanted.

I didn’t even have enough of a consciousness about what was happening to make sense of it.

But, here’s the crazy part.

Even when the injustice stopped, I didn’t suddenly begin to feel more powerful. It was as if I had gotten so used to living without my own power, I didn’t want it or need it anymore. If I’d had it, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it. Even the idea of having power over my life and circumstances was foreign to me.

I thought we were all just victims to circumstance, to those around us and to injustice.

What I didn’t realize was that I was really a victim to my own choices.

Powerlessness is learned. But it can be unlearned, too.

This is what I’ve been trying to focus on lately. The powerlessness I have learned for so many years—which led to depression, anxiety, frustration and persistent hopelessness—can be unlearned if I’m willing to change the way I think about power.

Although powerlessness began with an injustice, the only injustice now is that I’m still living powerless, by my own choosing.

For me, powerlessness shows up most often in these four ways:

  • Complaining
  • Blaming
  • Striving for acceptance
  • Disengaging or numbing

Are you living powerless?

I’ll never forget the first time someone suggested I might be giving away my own power. I felt furious. I seethed for days. How could that person possibly say something like that!? Clearly, they had no idea what I had been through.

If they had, they would understand what I was up against.

It wasn’t until I ran out of energy to be angry that I realized she was right.

It’s horrifying to stand up, turn around, and realize the oppression that once controlled your whole life isn’t there anymore. When did it leave? You wonder. How long have I been living as if I were oppressed, when I really wasn’t?

In order to reclaim my power, I’ve had to focus on the four behaviors I listed above.

It hasn’t been easy. They are deeply ingrained habits that are hard to change. I don’t have it totally figured out. But the more I lean into the learning process, the happier I feel.

I struggle less often with depression. My anxiety is slowly shifting. I feel more centered and peaceful.

Here’s a little about how that has looked for me:

  • Rather than complaining about being too busy or stressed, I choose to organize my time differently.
  • When there is a miscommunication, I choose to assume I didn’t communicate well, rather than that the other person didn’t listen.
  • Rather than complaining about how certain people treat me, I try to set better boundaries and expectations.
  • Rather than looking for someone to blame when things don’t go how I want them to, I look for ways I can accept responsibility, even if it’s small.
  • Rather than always deferring to the advice of others, I’m learning to listen to myself
  • Rather than worrying about my reputation, I focus on my character
  • When conflict or discomfort comes comes, I work to stay engaged and open—being as honest as I can about how I feel.

Like I said, this isn’t easy. I don’t get it right every time. But I keep working at it because I believe it is my obligation.

With power comes responsibility.

Maybe this is the reason so many of us avoid grabbing hold of the power we deserve—because we recognize that when we take the reigns of our circumstances, we have to own those circumstances.

We can’t pass the blame anymore. We can’t complain. Our choices create our reality.

This isn’t about controlling everything that happens to us. But it is about trying—it’s about failing gloriously, being willing to make a fool of myself, about not taking myself too seriously—and about using the small amount of power I’ve been given and using it well so that power can multiply.

The Best Thing You Can Do for Your Life And Career Is Make A Fool of Yourself

I’ve dedicated a great deal of energy in my life trying not to make a fool out of myself.

When I was in junior high, I remember thinking EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD was allowed to watch TV shows I wasn’t allowed to watch and listen to music I wasn’t allowed to listen to (at 13, most of life happens in caps-lock).

So to avoid looking foolish, my solution was to wait for the moment my friends began talking about the latest pop culture phenomenon and pretend like I knew exactly what they were talking about.

“Oh, I know! Boyz II men are so bad-ass!”

“Isn’t Clueless like, so totally awesome?!”

Even now that junior high is over (thank God) I still find myself, at times, going to great lengths to not make a fool out of myself.

These days, it looks something like this:

  • I prepare and prepare and prepare and over-prepare for speaking engagements, so I make sure not to say anything weird.
  • I sometimes agonize over what to post (or not post) on social media.
  • I obsess over blog posts. “Did I say it right? Did I miscommunicate? Am I going to look stupid? Do I know what I’m talking about?”
  • I hold back from doing things that feel outside of my comfort zone (even something simple, like playing frisbee) because I don’t want to look like an idiot.

And what good have these obsessions ever done me? Are they preventing me from making a fool out of myself? Probably not.

My latest realization is this:

The harder we work not to make fools out of ourselves, the more foolish we end up looking.

Trying not to make a fool out of myself has kept me from so many things I wanted to do in my life.

It has kept me from trying something new for fear of coming across as incompetent or unintelligent or unrefined (recently a friend offered to let me paint with watercolors and I nearly refused…for fear of looking stupid. I’m so glad I didn’t!)

It has kept me from taking risks.

It’s kept me from speaking up about things that matter to me.

It has kept me from being myself.

What has your fear of looking foolish kept you from doing in your life? When you consider the opportunity cost, ask yourself this: was it worth it?

What if making a fool out of ourselves could actually work to our advantage?

What if the things we think of as “foolish” aren’t really that foolish after all (like being out-of-the-know when it comes to pop culture)? What if they are the pieces of the puzzle that set us apart, that make us who we are?

What if making a fool of yourself could teach you an important lesson?

What if the chance of making a fool of yourself meant you got to try something new? What if you succeeded in an area where you never thought you could?

What if a willingness to make a fool of yourself is a prerequisite for creativity and innovation?

Would you give it a try?

I have a challenge for you—and it’s the same challenge I’ve been giving myself lately. It goes like this:

Go ahead, make a fool of yourself.

Seriously. I mean that as a literal challenge. Look for ways this week you can make a fool of yourself and go for it.

Wait for a moment when you would have, in the past, stayed on the sidelines or held back. But this time, don’t retreat. Don’t back off. Don’t give into fear. Move forward. Get in the ring. Make a fool of yourself.

Just see what happens. I think you might be surprised.