I’ve known for a very long time that I’m different. Not “better” different. Because, really, “better” is relative. Better than what? The comparisons are limitless. and I’m thinking at least 50% of them wouldn’t be pretty. “Different” can imply too much trouble. too much work. weird. tiresome. exasperating. I don’t deny those adjectives. They’re not my favorite, but they’re not untrue.
I’m not a kid anymore.
I’ll be 49 this month. In 4 days actually. Time for (another) hard look in the mirror:
Retin-A prescription. check.
paralyzing self-doubt. che…WAIT.
WHAT THE H3LL is THAT DOING HERE?
no no no no no. That has got to GO.
Somehow, somewhere, some way, the idea that I’m “doing it WRONG” had planted itself smack in the middle of my writing path, taking me on a multi-month detour that led straight into a dead end. I stopped “doing it” altogether and focused instead on the WAY I was doing it. Which again, I
perceived believed was WRONG.
Ironically, the thing that triggered the paralyzing self-doubt was the exact same thing that knocked me free from it.
~ Someone telling me my blog posts were selfish made me forget that a blog, by definition is an online journal. So, by definition, MY blog is about what I think and how I feel and how I process. It’s not a place where I write one-size-fits all articles directed at the masses in exchange for money. I intentionally don’t monetize this blog because I want to say what I want to say without outside censorship. Almost overnight, internal censorship resulted in words that were so restricted and appropriately vanilla that proofing them was like reading something written by a complete stranger. A boring stranger. KMN. I forgot that clicking – or not clicking – a mouse button is a choice every single person who reads my blog is free to make…or NOT make.
~ Someone telling me they don’t read my blog because I tend to ramble on, somehow made me count my words – instead of considering the fact that maybe they just DON’T WANT TO READ it. I took the “ramble on” feedback to mean that I needed to learn to write more concisely – instead of considering the possibility that maybe – just maybe – what I have to say just flat out doesn’t interest them.
~ Two different people tell me they sometimes have to read something I’ve written twice and I focus on the one who tells me I lost them instead of focusing on the one who wants to have coffee to explore what I said and talk about what she took away from it after the second, slower read it required and the deeper thinking it led to.
~ And most frustrating and challenging of all, there were widespread tangential comments from, and conversations with, multiple people about both my Christ-centered church and my search for joy blog posts which didn’t seem to be related to the content of what I had actually written. I had written extensively about the why and how we do things and the feedback was all about what we do – or about something else entirely. I was overwhelmed and grieved with the heartbreaking realization that we were suffering from a fatal illness and the feedback I was hearing was all about how dedicated we are to our health and how hard we work to eat right and exercise. It was a disconnect I couldn’t reconcile.
and so I shut down. no more writing until I could learn how to do it with more clarity.
Finally, after months of being unable to even open my book draft, and after finally identifying exactly WHY (a lack of confidence in my ability to effectively encode ANYthing I wanted to say), I began asking people to restate, in their own words, what they thought I said. One after another, multiple people made it crystal clear to me that my encoding was spot on. The message was clear. It was understood.
It was just rejected.
wait. that’s probably just a different kind of bad.
BUT IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MY ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY!
I’m used to rejection. Being dismissed is old hat. I’m SO much better at respectfully agreeing to disagree than I’ll ever be at pretending to agree.
But being an educator and believing I had become an incompetent communicator? That was paralyzing.
This feedback led to a significant pivot point. These people were able to succinctly restate my message. They had a very clear understanding of what I wrote and their ability to precisely restate what I said – along with their rejection of it – was just the epiphany I needed to break free from this quagmire. In that pivot point moment, I saw it. I was suffering from toxic levels of avoidance. I couldn’t write. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because by NOT writing, there was absolutely ZERO chance I could create selfish, rambling, rhetoric that loses people. I had spent weeks re-reading previous blog posts with the eye of an iron glute professor armed with textbook communication theory and a psychological red pen that could berate Dr. Seuss for lack of clarity and nonsensical vocabulary.
I’m not saying I’m going to insulate myself from honest, yet sometimes negative feedback because it might derail me again. I understand the dangers of a steady diet of rainbows. I’ve paid a therapist and a voice teacher to tell me the truth. I’m going to keep seeking feedback. And NOT only from people who believe every kid who plays should get a trophy. I just need to REMIND MYSELF of ONE thing EVERY. SINGLE. time I process a word of it:
I’m a square peg.
and I LIKE being square. I think round things are inefficient uses of space. And I know the look I get when I say that out loud to someone. It goes with the eye roll you just gave me. Nobody thinks or cares about the the spacial efficiency of square objects.
except maybe me. because I’m different.
It’s taken me months to nail down the problem. WHY did I shut down after publishing my “Christ-centered church” series?
Anything I had to say was pointless. recycled and contrived. self-important rambling. vomit from my fingertips.
my confidence wasn’t the only thing that was shot. my credibility was in a crumpled heap:
Who did I think I was? If God has a message, He does NOT want me to share it. As a matter of fact, if He wants anybody to actually hear a message, He really needs to find someone else to share it. seriously. look at the history. I suck at this.
Not only did the message of the Christ-centered church series get vehemently rejected, it was so vehemently rejected, people rejected stuff I didn’t even SAY. Those posts shut down conversation and built unscalable walls of defensiveness that are still impenetrable today.
Vehement rejection aside, there seem to be just as many people who didn’t understand what I was trying to say in the first place. Not even a little. Then there are the people who are convinced they understand, but when they comment or talk to me, it’s clear. Not even close. I hadn’t succinctly explained what I was talking about. I sometimes wondered if I would have been better understood if I had written those posts in pig-Latin.
Am I dismissing the relatively few people who did understand? who identified with what I said? who responded positively?
of course I am. It’s what we humans do. In an employee review, we will dismiss the 9 “excellents” and obsess over the one “needs improvement.” Because the next review? We want that “needs improvement” to be improved. significantly.
For months after that series, I was convinced I couldn’t put words together in comprehensible sentences. I couldn’t write. I stopped the “conversations with a born-again athiest” series. If what I said about my faith caused CHRISTIANS such confusion and anger, I had NO business talking to an atheist. seriously.
I was paralyzed by a complete and total lack of confidence in my ability to discern ANYthing. God’s will, God’s prompting, God’s movement. Wisdom?
It was months of paralyzing doubt…no – paralyzing conviction – that I had nothing of value to contribute to…anyone – and even if I did – I was incapable of articulating it with any clarity at all.
I threw myself into physical labor. I can’t screw that up, right?
I began asking God for a mentor. To send someone wise and blessed with discernment. Then, just two weeks ago, I had coffee with a new friend. A deep thinker. We read the same authors. She took the time to listen and dig. She’s a question asker. It was a short four hours. I put my finger on it:
and I already KNEW it. I mentioned it in the middle of the Christ-centered church series, in a post entitled ““Christ-centered Church.” I do not think it means what you think it means.”
“Encoding is, to simplify it, the words and pictures I use to convey my message…it’s MY RESPONSIBILITY TO MODIFY MY ENCODING in an effort to clarify my message and minimize any misinterpretation”
I went back and read the Christ-centered church series again. and again. and again.
Was WHAT I said inaccurate? no. and I do NOT answer that question lightly. More than 6 months later and I’ve got even more and detailed reasons for believing it’s true. Hard. heart wrenchingly hard. but true.
So. Was HOW I shared the message ineffective? I shared personally and chronologically. I stepped through what I believe God was revealing to me in the order He revealed it. I explained how He revealed it. I read the series again. I went over and over it. I read my prayer journal entries from that time. I couldn’t see any other way to do it. Should I have left myself completely out of it? Excluded my thoughts and feelings? Should I have just stated facts and stuck exclusively with movie clips and metaphors, like dominoes? Was all that personal stuff just a self-indulgent, cathartic purge? If I had just stated the premise of the message up front, would it have had more clarity? Or, as I suspect, would the message have been rejected even faster? Having already decided I was wrong, no one would have come back to read any more; there would have been absolutely NO reason to hear me out.
And here’s the gist of it: If I did such a phenomenally poor job encoding a blog series, how in the world could I possibly encode a book?
I was a communication major. I should be able to structure and articulate a message. Supposedly, I’m an educator. What I came face to face with – what paralyzed me – was that it doesn’t matter a flyin flip WHAT I have to say if I’m incapable of saying it in a way it can be understood.
And then God reminded me of Balaam’s ass.
I don’t believe in coincidences. God led me to this book, and this passage:
“As the final song was sung before I was to be introduced, I leaned to Boneface and out of fear and desperation [I] blurted, “I don’t know why I am here. I don’t know why God would send me here to speak to these people, Why me?” Without hesitation, and with a big grin, Boneface turned to me and said, “You are here because the donkey was busy tonight.”
He was making a not-so-veiled reference to the prophet Balaam’s talking donkey in the Old Testament.
I got the message. God uses anything or anyone He chooses.”
Elijah, Steps to a Life of Power by Bob Saffrin
If God can speak through an ass, He can speak through me.
and it has not escaped my attention that Balaam beat the crap out of that donkey THREE times before he understood what the donkey was trying to tell him.
I just need to keep reminding myself of one thing:
“…Balaam replied. ‘But I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.’”
Intimate communication with Christ through prayer can be the foundation of everything in your life: every thought you think, every idea that opens your mind, every choice you make. But when we relegate prayer to certain times and places in our lives, we limit that communication – and its influence on our thoughts, ideas and choices. We quench the Holy Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 tells us to “pray continually” and that it is “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” These instructions aren’t directed at monks, they are for everyone who has accepted Christ. It’s possible to pray anywhere, anytime because God is with you, everywhere, all the time. It’s possible for prayer to saturate your moments and your days.
Did I just morph into that Jesus Freak with whom you avoid eye contact and cross the street to escape? Have you already tuned me out, thinking, “meh, she’s not talking to me. I don’t need to change anything. I’m fine.”
The most heinous of four letter words. Saturated in mediocrity. Reeking of average. Riding the edge of dissatisfaction and discouragement. More comfortable than a recliner and a bowl of chips in front of a 60 inch flat screen. There are some people who live their entire lives feeling fine about everything they do. There are people live their entire lives feeling fine about their relationship with God.
Fine is not what I’m going for. I. want. more.
I’ve discovered that I can have as much of God as I want, and I want more. I want Christ in every nook and cranny of my mind and heart and soul, every day of the week because when He’s not? My pursuits are just pointless exercises in ladder climbing and stuff collecting. I want my relationship with Christ to be at the center of my marriage, my relationship with my kids, family and friends, my career, my ministry.
If that makes me a Jesus Freak, go ahead and call me one, under your breath or to my face, I’m okay with the label. I’ve found the ultimate source of passion in life and I can’t keep it to myself. I’m compelled to share it. It fuels me. My relationship with Christ makes the routine meaningful, the lows bearable and the highs incomparable. God’s grace is more amazing than any song could describe, His love is illogically unconditional, His patience is unimaginably endless, His blessings are undeserved and abundant and His peace obliterates worry and fear. This is the “more” I’m talking about and there’s plenty of it to go around.
It all stems from prayer, intimate no-holds barred prayer. Naked prayer. The kind of prayer you pray when you are unashamed and want to tell God everything. The kind of intimate communion Adam and Eve experienced with God in the Garden before they were deceived. I’m writing this book because I want you to want more. To have more. More of God.
Not more from God, more of God.
I’m back to writing my book again! Momentarily holding distractions at arm’s length.
Working on my chapter on Influence, writing about the impact of Groupthink. Curious. If you were in the elevator with these people, what would YOU do?
“If it was easy, everyone would do it” is one of my mantras.
I say it to my kids when they struggle with ANYthing and I see discouragement or frustration start to set in. I say it to my husband, friends, clients and sometimes, even strangers.
I say it to myself.
When I’m supposed to be writing and find myself staring at the screen, fingers atrophied over the keyboard.
When I spend two hours writing, proofread what I’ve written and immediately want to start over.
When I’m trying to curl a 15 pound dumbbell for the 12th time in my second set.
When I’m 2 minutes and 20 seconds into my 2 minute, 30 second forearm plank.
When I’m trying not to fly off the back of the treadmill during my HIIT walking program.
When I drag myself off the couch to pick up that stupid dumbbell or put on my walking shoes.
When I’m 3 seconds short of an 18 second note I’ve been trying to hold out. For the 100th time.
When my voice breaks on that high note I’m trying to hit in full voice. After two years of voice lessons.
When I’m vocalizing for the third time in a day in an attempt to get the “right” technique to become second nature.
Just a few weeks ago, during a break in a recording session, I mentioned something about needing to work on something with my voice teacher. The sound technician said, “YOU have a voice teacher!?” I responded with a big “Heck, YEAH!” He paused for a moment and then said, “It just seems more like you would teach voice lessons, not take them.” I quickly and firmly told him that I will never be too good for voice lessons.
But that exchange emphasized a very common misconception: The things people are good at just come naturally to them.
SO not true.
And the persistence of that mindset devalues the accomplishment, no matter what it is. The persistence of that mindset liberates other people from trying. It turns a potential mentor into someone to be resented and berated. Instead of being viewed as someone who met a goal as a result of hard work, they are instead viewed as “lucky.” Rather than inspiring someone else to take their own steps toward better and stronger, they become a discouragement to others. Because the perception is that whatever the goal, it’s not achievable by anyone but the lucky ones.
The book, Talent Is Overrated claimed, “One factor, and only one factor, predicted how musically accomplished the students were, and that was how much they practiced.”
The fact is that excellence isn’t easy. It doesn’t happen without work. Usually hard work. Developing a skill takes time. and repetition.
Experience is a teacher in and of itself.
What most people don’t realize is that mediocrity is only one short day of slackin away. Just because I do something well, doesn’t mean I’ve finished learning or practicing.
The fact that I was in a writing zone yesterday doesn’t insure against writer’s block tomorrow.
Being satisfied with today’s writing doesn’t mean I won’t be filled with doubt and repulsion about tomorrow’s.
The ability to lift a 15 pound dumbbell today doesn’t mean I won’t have to opt for 10 pounds tomorrow.
Making it through a 2 minute, 30 second plank today doesn’t mean I won’t collapse at 2 minutes the next day.
Finishing the 30 minute HIIT treadmill program today is no guarantee that I won’t wimp out the next time.
The fact that extracted myself from the couch today doesn’t mean won’t stay curled up on it tomorrow.
As I’ve discovered, holding a note for 18 seconds one time, does NOT mean I can now do it any time I want.
The same is true for that high note – once does not mean always.
Even after spending hundreds of hours practicing the “right” way to sing, I still drift into old habits . . .
For me, excellence isn’t a destination I’ll ever arrive at and rest comfortably. Because of my relentless determination to be a good steward of all that God has blessed me with, the striving for excellence is a lifetime journey.
To find out why I’m so obsessed with striving for excellence, check out this post: I. Want. More.
. . . when you realize you have nothing to contribute. When you realize everything that can be said has already been said, that there are literally countless people who can do what you’re trying to learn to do – and they are already phenomenally better at it, and that you should give up this fantasy you’re chasing and get back to real life . . .
. . . and then you come to your senses and say, “Get thee behind me Satan! I am so unbelievably sick of you and your lies.”
Every situation is infused with the possibility of greater meaning.
Every interaction is saturated with the potential for life changing pivot points.
Choices we previously made without a second thought take on greater significance.
We realize that everything is bigger than we thought.
This is why I struggle when I write. The words I use will make all the difference. This book I’m writing can’t be cathartic purging or just a transfer of information. My goal is to inspire CHANGE – and not the kind people threw at this man’s feet.
As I write and re-write, I’m praying that my FIRST editor is God. It’s His message. He knows the words I should use.
After starting over on a new book, I thought I was finished with the introduction.
I told FirstHusband I wasn’t ready for him to read it because I wasn’t ready for negative feedback.
Took two days to build up the courage.
He had some excellent constructive criticism. Nothing to edit or delete. But he did make some strong arguments for needing to add an intro and a conclusion to the intro. Thankfully, the arguments came with some good ideas.
As I expected, I’m not finished with the intro.
I met with my writing mentor a just a few months after I began writing my book. She took a few minutes to go over my outline and her first comment was:
“I see more than one book here.”
She said I was trying to stuff everything I wanted to say in one book and it was just too much.
So I spent a few weeks restructuring my single existing book outline into four new outlines – and a few months moving content from my one existing word processing document into an appropriate location within four new documents. At that point, I had the beginnings of four books:
A book on Christian living,
a book on spiritual growth,
a book on Christian relationships
a book on Christian parenting.
(a few months ago, also I outlined a book on Christian conflict resolution)
Sounds so impressive, huh?
More like overwhelming. daunting.
So, I spent the next year or so (off and on – life gets intrusive) writing the book on Christian living. A few months into the process, I got bogged down in the content, took a giant step back and started a new document, making massive changes to the organization. I began copying the content from the old document into the new, with a totally new approach.
I felt like I was starting over.
I continued writing and worked on the Christian living book for months and at this point, I’m more than halfway finished with it.
But in December, I hit a wall.
(And it was early December, nearly a month before my mother’s death, so I didn’t see a connection – maybe God was preparing me, but at that time, I didn’t see it)
Everything I wrote, I either deleted or set aside in a supplemental document named “notes.” More often than not, I didn’t write anything at all, but instead, sat with my fingers hovering over the home keys, staring blankly at the computer screen. After a few frustrating weeks of unproductive effort, I stopped writing altogether.
No idea was good. I was paralyzed. stuck. the dreaded writer’s block.
Then, last week, saturated in the awareness of impending life changes on multiple fronts, I spent some time staring blankly out the window instead of at the computer screen. I prayed a little and listened a LOT, begging God to direct me.
Let me just say right now: “Be careful what you pray for.”
fer cyrin out loud. no wonder.
I’ve been writing the wrong book.
I need to be working on the spiritual growth book first. By writing the book on Christian living, I was putting the cart before the horse. Without a reason for Christian living, what’s the point? There was no foundation. No motivation.
“Christian living” is empty and meaningless on its own.
So I’ve put the Christian living book away. Haven’t opened it in weeks. Yesterday, I finished the draft of the introduction to the spiritual growth book.
I feel like I’m starting over.
fer cryin out loud.
I figure if Panera didn’t want me to monopolize booth #1, they shouldn’t have put a power outlet under my feet.
10:39am – At Panera Bread, trying to write instead of at home trying not to fall asleep or clean something. I’m supposed to be working on my book, but it seems that lyrics are sneaking out instead. We’ll see. I’ve got time to do both – PinkGirl has a 12 hour theater day.
11:39am – Crudola. Power supply at home. Battery has 2 hours and 40 minutes. Gonna try and bribe FavoritSon to bring it to me later. seriously. that’s not going to happen.
12:39pm – I’m attempting to bribe FavoriteSon with free Panera lunch. He and his dad think it’s “girl food” but I think he’ll do it anyway. The question is whether he’ll make it before my battery dies. 1 hour 42 minutes.
1:39pm – My son loves me. He just brought my laptop power supply to me at Panera Bread so I didn’t have to stop writing. And I didn’t even have to buy him lunch.
Let the monopolization of booth #1 continue.
12:45pm – There are days when I’m writing that I think I might be on to something. And then there are days like today when I think “there’s nothing new under the sun” and I’m just recycling words.
I think I need an endorphin.
and a mentor.
2:45pm – I abandoned the writing and had lunch with the Lord.
Then I cleaned the back porch.
Sitting down with the computer again, praying I’m not cleaning the house in an hour – because really, if I do that, I’m desperate.
5:59pm – My living room is clean now.
I’ve been trying to write. I don’t mean blog, I mean write. Why is there such a significant difference? Blogging is easy.
Writing is paralyzing.
I’ve written and re-written a book outline no less than 10 times in the last two weeks and yesterday, with a rare day to myself, I took my husband’s advice and “just started writing already.”
I wrote 3367 words (6 and a half single spaced pages) and let me just say:
When I was finished, reading it over, all I could think was “Who would EVER want to read THIS?”
not good. I was back to paralyzed.
So today, while avoiding writing altogether, I found myself in Goodwill, with my head tipped to my right shoulder, perusing book titles.
(ya know how your mother used to say if you made a certain face it was gonna stick that way? Well I’m waiting for my head to stick that way, as much as I book shop.)
Then a book title jumped out at me: “If You Can Talk You Can Write“
People, I can talk.
I glanced at the back and the first bulleted description read:
“Conquer the Killer Ps – Perfectionism, Paralysis and Procrastination”
I put the book in my basket immediately.
I couldn’t wait to get home. I’m anxious for the cure, the quick fix this book is sure to provide. (What? My expectations are too high? Unrealistic?) The boys are at a track meet somewhere about an hour and a half away, PinkGirl is singing in the shower at the top of her lungs and I cop a squat (I have such a way with words, it’s hard to believe I’m having trouble writing) on the back porch with my new book and a cup of coffee. Will I identify with this author? Can he help me? Let’s see:
“For some reason, everyone thinks, ‘I should know how to write.’ No one thinks, ‘I should know how to play the piano.’ But when it comes to writing, ‘I should know how to do it.’
What if I told you a story about a man who buys a piano, sits down to play for the very first time and is shocked when he doesn’t sound like Arthur Rubinstein?
‘I don’t understand,’ he complains, ‘I’ve listened to lots of music, I should know how to play the piano.’
Ridiculous you say? Yet there you are: Banging away at the typewriter, you’re mortified when your work isn’t as good as Ernest Hemingway’s. Hell, it isn’t even as good as Ernest Goes to Camp.”
that was unexpected. I actually laughed out loud.
Not as good as Ernest Goes to Camp. yes, I do believe I can identify with this author.
I’m also having lunch with my friend – a professional writer – tomorrow so I can beg her to cure my paralysis for some insight and advice.