The imposter syndrome is loud this morning. I got my second rejection letter and I have no acceptance letters to offset it. The voices in my head begin:
“Who I am to write? I haven’t got the education.”
“I should have spent more time perfecting that before sending it out.”
“I will just get a job and forget I even tried to do this.”
“Why does this have to be this hard? Everything I have ever done is hard. I just want one thing to be easy for once.”
The spiral spins and my throat tightens. It is the hitch in my chest that comes before the tears and then they roll down my cheeks.
I want to reach out to a friend for some comfort but it is only Monday morning and I don’t want to set their week off too. Besides, I don’t really want to hear their platitudes. It is so easy to say that this is part of the journey and that you have to keep trying, but it is so hard to actually do that.
I was so joyful this morning too. I was going to outline the novel I’ve been dreaming about. I got up with the intention of learning about story structure. Opening my in-box instead was a mistake. All that energy and enthusiasm is gone now and I am struggling just to stay in my office. I want to go back to bed. I want to shut down my launch and pretend my book didn’t happen.
What will I do if people hate it? I should have taken more time and I should have done another few rounds of revisions. I should have taken courses on writing a memoir before putting something out into the world.
That is my typical spiral but it doesn’t last too long. Luckily.
Launching my book out into the world has been an exercise in perseverance. The scene above is just one example of the challenges I have faced. The challenges were not all obstacles the world threw my way. Mostly they were obstacles I had to overcome in my own mind.
Being brave and bold is hard work!
When I look back, writing the book was the easy part. I simply got up at 5:00am every morning for a few months and put in my 600–1500 words. The minute I had to involve other people, beta readers, editors, and promoters, that’s when it got thorny. All challenges in our lives can be used to learn and so here are six things I learned about moving through fear.
Six Things I Learned About Moving Through Fear
1. YOU HAVEN’T DONE THIS BEFORE — AND THAT’S OKAY
The hardest parts of this journey were not the external obstacles but my mindset around them.
There were not just a few things I had never done before; there were platforms to learn, publishing rules, editors, book sites, cover designers, ISBN numbers, tax agency phone calls, and on and on. Every day there were things I encountered that I had never seen before. It is hard to not be an expert at anything day after day.
To overcome this I had to adopt a beginner’s mindset. Beginners are okay with not knowing. Beginners know things will take extra time and that mistakes will be made. Adopting this mindset quieted down my inner perfectionist and let me explore the new challenges without needing to be an expert right away.
2. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ASK FOR…AND FROM WHOM
I was hungry for feedback on my writing but learning who to ask and how to process it were other things altogether.
It was important get feedback from beta readers and editors but I learned that limiting who I asked for criticism kept some cooks out of the kitchen. Everyone has an opinion and if I involved too many people I couldn’t hear my own opinion in all the noise.
There was also a time to get feedback and a time to hold things close and not share. I had to learn the hard way that it was best to not share anything when things were brand new. Newborn ideas need protection and incubation not criticism. I had to let things grow more solid before they were ready for other people’s eyes.
Asking for specific feedback was critical to preserving my self-esteem and getting suggestions I could use. Some people were great at giving feedback and others walked all over my feelings without a second thought. I found by giving parameters for the feedback I was able to limit the criticism to areas I decided on. It was empowering to ask for opinions only on what I was prepared for. It was self-preserving.
I learned that I could take or leave any feedback and use only what was truly helpful. It was also a good idea not to respond to feedback for a few days other than to say thank you. Once I let my mind mull someone’s thoughts over I often saw the helpful in what first appeared to be hurtful.
3. GET UNSTUCK BY ASKING FOR HELP
There were so many things I didn’t know anything about. While I leaped into the unknown to learn about and overcome many of them, there were still some things I was unwilling to tackle. These tasks stayed on my to-do list day after day. I finally asked myself “why am I not moving forward on this?” Sometimes it was because I wasn’t an expert, or I didn’t have time, or I hated the task. I knew that I would not be able to overcome those feelings for some of the things I needed to get done. I was procrastinating like a pro on those tasks. So I got help. It was worth every penny.
Owning up to the fact that I would not be able to do some things alone allowed me to tap into other people’s expertise and get unstuck. Getting help moved those tasks from the to-do list to the done list. Jeffrey Davis of Tracking Wonder discusses the need for others in our businesses and he is right. I learned that I don’t have to do everything myself and there are clear indicators (stalling and procrastinating) that tell me when to call in reinforcements.
4. DON’T THINK. DO.
I had a plan and a detailed to-do list to get my book launched but sometimes I found myself thinking way to long about each of the tasks on the list. The thinking went something like “they will say no, so why bother” or “their audience won’t be interested” or “my writing isn’t good enough for them.” This thinking stopped me in my tracks and I didn’t move forward on those tasks. Thinking wasn’t helpful. Instead, I had to figure out how to avoid thinking — and just do.
I set up a little challenge for myself. I printed out a sheet with 100 dots on it and I vowed to give myself a sticker for every “hard” thing I did and I would fill all 100 dots by a specific date. This mini reward system made me turn off the thinking and get to the doing. I didn’t have time to ruminate; I had to get to action. I didn’t pre-judge an opportunity or self-reject without trying. I applied, I sent the book, I submitted the blog, and on and on, to 100 things. I learned that the more I focused on doing without thinking, the better off I was.
5. SUCCESS IS NOT PERFECTION
I am a bit of a perfectionist and that was a big obstacle in my book launch because there were so many things I had never done before. I was going to make some mistakes and if success was perfection, I would certainly fail. I had to adjust my definition of success to allow for mistakes.
I made many: I accidentally published my book before my launch date. I uploaded incorrect files to a book platform which meant I had to pay to correct them. I ordered printed books (which cost me dearly) when I could have used free on-line screening. I launched too early without knowing that you need four months lead time for book review sites. And on…and on.
My mistakes did not stand in the way of launching though. They were hurdles on my path to success and I learned from them. I adjusted my definition of success to include errors and I kept going. If I hadn’t, I would have been crippled by my lack of perfection.
6. GET A CHEERING TEAM
There were many days that I ran out of energy and drive. I could not have launched this book without surrounding myself with some key people — my cheering team. These were hand-picked people who wanted my success as much as they wanted their own. They were able to celebrate my good days and help lift me up on the not so good days.
I have high internal accountability but launching a book was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I needed external accountability and support to get through this and I am not ashamed of that. The achievement was not lessened by the involvement of others, in fact, it was enhanced because I had people to share it with!
So there you have the six things I learned about fear. Elizabeth Gilbert said in an interview with Oprah recently that all the questions she gets asked by artists come down to some form of fear. I found these six things helped me move through my own fear and get on with the creating and promoting of my own work. May you find something that helps you manage your fear too.