Saturday, February 27, 2010

My fear of the F-word (no not that one)

I often talk about my desire to be a writer, although by having a blog I guess I could qualify as a part-time writer. One of the things I often wonder about is why I never explored writing as a career path when I was younger. Looking back it would have made sense to be interested in writing, as I have always been an avid reader. Journaling has been a hobby that I started very young and still continue to do today. I even started a journal that I write to Sophia, that she can read when she is an adult so she can experience how it really felt for me to be her mommy. I really wish I could find the journals from my teenage years but I think they were lost when we sold our house after I graduated from high school. Those boxes were divided among storage spaces of our extended family and have never been found. Looking back I can see that writing should have been an obvious option, but only recently have I realized why I never pursued this path. It was quite simply my fear of Failure.

I have always set high expectations of myself and have been my most own harshest critic. In fact, I have always strived to be the best in all of my endeavors; academically, socially, and physically. In elementary school, I raced to finish a test or assigment during class. I took pride in being the first one to turn in my answers (and to get them all right). Once I got to middle school, I think I concentrated more on being the biggest flirt than on the best student – but still I was striving to be the best. In high school, I really put the pressure on myself to succeed. My academics were my first focus because I needed to get a scholarship if I wanted to go to college. I took advanced placement (AP) classes, became an officer in student government, joined the math and French clubs, was the editor of the yearbook, and studied hard to get good grades. Cheerleading was also a major part of my life growing up. I was a Varsity cheerleader from freshman to senior year and I tried out for All-American squad every year at cheerleading camp.

I had a need to succeed.

No only did I have this need, but I also needed to be recognized for my success. I wanted an A in every class, to be surrounded by friends, to be the best cheerleader on the team. Something as simple as cheering for my high school football games would lead to an inquisition for my mom afterwards. How did I look out there? Did I do my best? What could I do to improve? My report cards would be displayed with pride (only straight A’s were allowed). Anything less would be devastating – not to my parents, but to me. I got a B in gym class my freshman year of high school, as sports were not my area of expertise and we had been graded on our foul shots during that six weeks grading period. The fact that I can still remember that grade shows me how much the fear of failure shadowed my thoughts.

In fact, sports were an area with a huge potential for failure for me so I simply chose to not expose myself to that possibility. I refused to try most sports unless I knew I had a high potential to succeed. Cheerleading, gymnastics and dance were areas that excelled so they were the focus of my childhood, high school and college years. Softball, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and tennis were all sports that I feared. Basically any sport that involved a ball was, to me, a potential for a broken nose. I could not imagine letting anyone see me performing poorly, so I refused to even try. I think this fear held true for many of my decisions in late adulthood, it was not just limited to sports. I pursued a degree in engineering simply because I was told by my math teacher that I was good at math and science.

In the past few years, I have been attending the Arts and Letters Live series that is sponsored by the Dallas Museum of Art. During this time I have been able to listen to several accomplished authors speak about their books and their writing process such as; Anne Lamott author of Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith and Bird by Bird, Elizabeth Gilbert the author of Eat, Pray, Love, Sue Monk Kidd author of The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid Chair and her daughter Ann Kidd Taylor, David Wreblewski author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (an Oprah’s book club selection) and just recently new authors Joshua Ferris & Adam Haslett.

These authors often talk about the pattern of failure that is necessary in the process of writing. It took a while for this to sink in for me, the concept that accomplished authors experienced failure on a daily basis before they reached success. I have also had to redefine my definition of success when it comes to writing. Originally, I only considered success as a writer in terms of writing a book and getting it published. And of course making some money in the process. My definition of success is much narrower now. I write because it captures the moments of my life for future reflection, it allows me to share my thoughts and experiences with family and friends, it is an outlet for my frustration, and sometimes it makes me happy.

Recently I told Trey that after years of trying to find contentment, happiness, success or whatever it was I was searching for in early adulthood… I think I have finally come to a place of contentment. My career is petroleum engineering is (re)established, I have a happy marriage and I have two beautiful kids. I have learned to stop searching for the next thing to make me happy and learned to find happiness in the little moments of each day. Of course this doesn’t mean that our life does not have its crazy, overwhelming moments. We have small children, so our life is loud and messy most of the time.

I am currently reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, where the writer took a year of her life to focus on twelve resolutions to improve her happiness. I’m sure that most people would agree that there are things each of us could change in our lives to make us happier. However, I also agree with the concept that Rubin endorses, that the journey is just as important as the goal. Growth in my everyday life is what should bring me joy.

That is why I have turned back to writing in recent years. It has always been a deep desire, but one that I was never willing to tackle. I would not take the risk because of my fear of failure. I guess now I have reached the realization that my enjoyment of the process overshadows my fear. And as many wise authors have recently shared, failure is part of the process of writing. Failure can actually make me a better writer if I am willing to grow as I learn from my mistakes. Motherhood has taught me this lesson well, failure will forever be a part of motherhood but it is still one of my greatest joys in life. So although I may still fight it, fear it, and let it find its way into my mind when I sit down to write - I have come to accept that it will be always there. Failure. I always hated that F-word. But I have decided that I will no longer let it keep me from writing.


Gretchen said...

I saw the nice mention of my book, The Happiness Project, here. I very much appreciate those kind words and you shinning a spotlight on my work. Thanks and best wishes,

robbie said...

thanks for the book recommendation, I plan to pass it on to my book club. I LOVE reading your blog and seeing the pictures of the kids. I miss you all so much. Love, Mom

Trisha said...

Wow this was a great blog Steph. I never would have guessed that you feared failure! You sure don't show it. I have that same problem though in some way. Especially with college, and finding a job, then actually succeeding in that job. This inspired me. Thanks :)