Stop being a chicken and be a writer

I have dreamed of being a writer my whole life. Clouded by fear, I put all kinds barriers in the way of that dream. To get through my fear and actually start putting my writing out into the world, I only needed to embrace the barriers I had put in place to stop me. 

Learn to be the writer in all areas of your life

Writers sometimes hear a Universal whisper that says that that there is no time to write because we have to work (or errands, or chores, or endless-list-of-anything-but-writing). And when we don’t make time to write, the voice says we’re never going to get anywhere with our writing. And when we do write, the voice calls us an imposter and says the work is not good enough.

The voice can be overwhelming. It can get in the way of progress. It can bring whole projects to a grinding halt. The temptation when when the voice overwhelms all progress is to blame all the things the Universe puts in our way. Blame the job, blame the family, blame politics, blame Facebook.

Or maybe we try to ignore the voice. Neither of those things work. The only way to defeat the voice is to create a new voice. Instead of a hiss sniping away at your dream, learn to turn on a voice that is constantly asking the question in all aspects of your life of how you can be the writer right now, in this moment.

Panic attack in a room full of successful people

A few weeks ago, I attended an interesting conference for work. I found great value in the seminars and educational sessions. I made connections that were important to the work I do in the communications-technology space. But I felt a bit disconnected, a feeling I couldn’t at first, put my finger on.

The day opened with a general presentation in a large meeting space. The audience numbered a thousand or more. There was a main stage with three jumbo screens. There were videos, lighting, and professional sound.

Presentations by the host company spoke to their growth and success. A half-dozen speakers opined on the future trajectory of the industry, and about how we should engage in conversations with customers about Customer Experience as a means to connect with them around the technologies we sell.

The audience was into it. The speakers, one after the other, seemed genuine and proud and intelligent and focused. I was absorbing it all. Then one of the speakers opened his talk with a profession of ‘love’ for this business. “I love this business,” he said with reverent enthusiasm. “Don’t you love it?” The affluent and successful crowd cheered and clapped. I looked around. My colleagues eyes were bright, their smiles broad, their attention(the ones not tapping away on their smartphones that is) were connected with the speaker. I panicked.

I feel good about the work I do in this industry, but the word ‘love’ was threw me. I don’t ‘love’ the business. I bring value to the company I work for in this business. I apply one-hundred percent of my energy and effort to the work. When I am engaged with a customer, I bring integrity and skill and value to the relationship. But I do all that for money. For security. Because they pay me.

Not for love.

That panic didn’t come up in me because I couldn’t believe that someone could truly and honestly dedicate their precious lifetime to the sale and support of communications technology. The panic was cynicism was at myself for making the compromise to occupying a seat within a community that is not, on its surface, the one I want to make my life from.

How to survive a relationship when you don’t love the same things

The industry I work in is not at fault here. I admire the people I encounter there. There are a lot of driven, independent, successful people in the communications-service business, men and women who’ve enjoy great comfort and pleasure in life because of the work they do. Allowing me to participate and take a slice of the pie is a gift and lets me exchange my talents and time in exchange for the money they control.

The role I play (as a consultant) is that of product-knowledge specialist, sales engineer, and a member of the marketing team. It’s a custom-designed job. They use for me for the things I am best suited for. And I appreciate them for it.

The role though, is the compromise I make with myself. I sold myself into this amalgamation of responsibilities, exchanging my precious time and life energy in exchange for money. And when boiled down to its essence like that, I am not entirely proud of myself. Because...

… I want to make something of my life with writing. I want to Be a writer. But I make these choices about life that, I sometimes feel, box me out of the pursuit of writing as my life’s work. If I get self-critical about it, I take these jobs (and take on debt and other barriers to the pursuit of writing) as a way to put a wall between me and the risk of actually pushing through on that dream. The voice in my head also ways that being a writer means being a fiction writer. And being a fiction writer is only valuable if your fiction is commercially or critical successful.

So there I am, at this conference, conflicted because the job I had sold myself into put me in a place which did not align with my greatest ambitions. How do I turn this around? How do I live the life I’m living, honor the obligations I have now, and be a writer? I said, out loud (in my head) that I was so grateful to be where I was, but I was open to how I could live my life as a writer first.

Being the writer in all areas of your life

Then one of the speakers put three book covers on the screen. He said “These are the thought leaders in our industry.” He said that these books, all business books making the argument that improving Customer Experience was the best way for the industry to focus its technology, was the aspirational knowledge we all needed to gain. Writers were setting the pace and tone of the future. Writers were the gifted and celebrated leaders in our space. In my space. Right up there on screen. In front of the entire audience. Writer’s efforts being held up as the highest work in the industry.

Click. I got it, the reason I was there, how I fit into the world, how I could serve this community.

My problem was not that I have created a world where I don’t get to be a writer because of my obligations and my choices. My problem is that I am not waking up in the morning and looking at the world I operate in and saying “How can I be the writer in this space.”

Looking at the communications-technology community and saying “I am the writer here” opens up ideas about content to create (I am writing an essay on Customer Experience already) and stories to tell (company stories, personal journeys, long-form explorations into the concepts that this community wants to work in). It makes me think of copywriting and ghostwriting. It makes me think of writing for the trade publications, of creating white papers and eBooks. It makes me think that by getting known as the writer in this community, that I can help leading-edge thinkers get their innovations across. It makes me want to be open to how this community could use a writer, rather than being a frustrated writer feeling outside of this community.

The result of the epiphany is that I found a space of acceptance. To be a writer means to Be a writer in all areas of your life. Unbox that one-dimensional idea you have about what a ‘writer’ is. Shake the idea that ‘writer’ means only a certain thing and just start being a ‘writer’ at every opportunity, in every space. Write and share. Write and share. Do it well. Get known for it. Whatever comes of it will follow.

What writing journey are you on?

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