Mediocrity

A friend sent me a link to a contest. To enter, people write blog posts about their greatest fears and submit them to a published author, who will choose the best story and give the winning writer a trip to anywhere. How could I ever enter such a thing? My piece would be compared to hundreds of others. It would likely come up short.

I am afraid that my writing isn’t good enough. That I’m not good enough. That when I think I’m going to be a great writer someday, I’m wrong.

I am afraid that the voice inside my head that says I’m silly to want to be a writer, the voice that says I should give up and just keep a little journal for myself, might be right.

I am terrified of my own mediocrity.

I grew up nerdy, awkward, and quiet. I never had many friends, and my family didn’t have money for music lessons or sports teams. Instead of popularity, I comforted myself with my brain. I could read at three, write sentences at four, and I was so bored by the A-B-C of kindergarten that I was skipped through to second grade the next year. My parents praised my grades, so I kept bringing them quizzes adorned with gold stars and smiley faces. My teachers told me I was smart, told me I was talented, told me I should be a writer. Daily, I was praised for my brain. I was a very smart kid.

Then I got older, and I met more people. Smart people. People who were better than me at so many things, and so much more confident. People who inspired and intimidated me. I attended medical conferences and heard scientists speak excitedly about their work. After every conference, I wished I had gone on to grad school so that I could stand up there with those amazing people. But I doubt I’m smart enough to get through it. I went on a special cruise with hundreds of other geeks and was blown away by their guts and creativity. Singers, comics, writers and artists – I want so badly to be like them and to share myself with the world, but I don’t know how. Deep inside, I feel that my efforts would never compare to theirs, so I am afraid to try.

I am afraid that my brain has failed me. I used to feel so smart, and now I feel so… stupid. Is my pond bigger and more crowded now than it was when I was young, or has insecurity shrunk me into a smaller fish? I have grown into a woman who surrounds herself with intelligent and engaging people – why does this intimidate more than it inspires? In comparing myself to these people, my sense of self has begun to crack. If I’m not as smart as everyone’s been telling me I am, then what is left of me?

Here, on my blog, I feel safe. I write more for myself than for anyone else, and nobody is judging me. If readers don’t enjoy what they see, they don’t come back, and without a statistics counter embedded in my code, I’ll never know. It’s comfortable and isolated, and I can pretend here that I’m a wonderful writer who just hasn’t been discovered yet. Because, truth be told, I might not be all that good, and that’s a reality that I don’t want to face.

I am afraid to expose myself to criticism. I know it’s the only way to grow, but doing so may force me to admit I’m mediocre, and not the writer I wish I were. I fear that rejection will break me. It will reinforce the negative voices that whisper to me at night and prompt my retreat.

By entering this contest, I am choosing to face that fear. I’m handing in my assignment for some very talented and intimidating people to read and criticize. The little girl in me hopes desperately for a gold star. The insecure adult in me worries that putting my post in a pile with those of better writers than me is a mistake, and I shouldn’t try. They’re both wrong. What I need is not empty praise to puff my ego. I need to improve, both in skill and in guts, and the only way to do that is to take a deep breath and ask for criticism from people who are qualified to hand it out.

 

 


Love with a Chance of Drowning – A Memoir by Torre DeRocheThis post is part of the My Fearful Adventure series, which is celebrating the launch of Torre DeRoche’s debut book Love with a Chance of Drowning, a true adventure story about one girl’s leap into the deep end of her fears.

“Wow, what a book. Exciting. Dramatic. Honest. Torre DeRoche is an author to follow.” Australian Associated Press

“… a story about conquering the fears that keep you from living your dreams.” Nomadicmatt.com

“In her debut, DeRoche has penned such a beautiful, thrilling story you’ll have to remind yourself it’s not fiction.” Courier Mail

Find out more…


12 thoughts on “Mediocrity

  1. Sarah Somewhere

    I can relate to this alot, minus the being super smart bit! But as far as the insecurity about writing and creativity goes, you are not alone! Honestly, I didnt notice your writing too much in this, I just heard your strong message. That tells me that you are a fantastic writer! Keep going, keep showing up and keep sharing of yourself and doing what you love!

    Reply
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  3. Angelique

    I’m going to unload here a bit and, honestly, maybe should just make my own blog post on this topic, but we’ll see where it goes.

    1. If you haven’t seen this video featuring Ira Glass yet, you should watch it. If you’ve already watched it or heard about it, watch it anyway. It’s two minutes, and it’s really really the sort of thing that folks who want to be creative need to drilldrilldrillbaby into our heads:


    Honestly, watch the whole series (1 through 4) of Ira Glass on Storytelling at some point, too. There’s lots of good stuff in there, including stuff that will make you believe that he, too, once put out crap.
    2. There’s a workshop called The Artist’s Way. I recommend it muchly. But, much like the Ira Glass quote, to whittle it down into one important sentiment, I tell you this: In week two of the course, participants are told to put up a sign in their workspace with the following quote: “You take care of the quality, I’ll work on the quantity.” The “You” in this statement can be replaced with whatever works for you―the universe, your muse, god, whatever. It can be a stinkbug. It’s just a reminder that the crafting of quality, the perfection of your work, the rise above mediocrity is not your job, especially as you start off in a creative venture. Your job is to show up and makemakemakebaby. Do that really well, really consistently for three years. Compare whatever your day #1 work is with your day #1095 work (yes, I’m not making allowances for leap years) and then let me know if mediocrity is resolving itself.
    3. You can choose to ignore all this good advice. You can choose to let your fear rule you. But, before you do that, get really clear in your head about where that leads you, what that life looks like. Because you are making that choice. And, since you’ve invested a lot of time in thinking through what it would look like if you tried and weren’t good enough, you should spend some time on what it looks like to not try at all. And, honestly, if you’re afraid of failing, I think that’s the sure way to do it―to fail yourself, to fail to not just believe you can earn that gold star, but to fail to give it to yourself. Because you have to learn to give yourself that star again and again and again for just showing up and making something. For giving a damn enough to let your voice out―in words, in art, in song, in basketweaving. And you have to give yourself a gold star on the days when you realize you’ve forgotten all these lessons and need to reboot, recommit and learn it all over again, dammit.
    4. None of this is easy to say. None of it is stuff I do perfectly, I, too, need to amp up my skills and guts. I get distracted and discouraged. I feel like a phoney or like I don’t have a true voice anymore. Maybe I never did. I tell myself no one is going to care about what I put out there, that it’s not good enough for anyone to care. I disappoint myself. I don’t think the process of creativity is about becoming so enlightened that these voices go away, that we become above it all. It’s about swimming hard, working your arm and leg muscles ’til they ache, putting the distance between you and those voices, using a pile of words or canvases as a breaker for those fearful waves to break against. There still there, but we can do the work, we can mitigate their power and be proud of the process and the result.

    Reply
    1. antijen Post author

      Thanks for taking this so seriously as to practically write a whole post of your own! I will watch those videos and get back to you, for sure. And we can discuss all that other stuff over coffee… unless I turn my responses into a new post first!

      Reply
  4. Torre – Fearful Adventurer

    I know the feeling. And it doesn’t get easier once you succeed—for me it got harder! All those intellects you see around you? I would bet that they feel it too. In fact, I’d be willing to get that anyone who values their brain is afraid appearing stupid to others. Time to tell that inner voice of self doubt to STFU. I’ll be cheering you on.

    Reply
    1. antijen Post author

      It’s encouraging to hear that even the pros have those feelings! Thanks for the support!

      Reply
  5. Helen Davies

    I can totally relate to where you are coming from. All my life I have put pressure on myself to be something and yet constantly feeling as though everyone else is just that little better.

    I spent the most part of my life crippled by a painful fear of people judging me and so worried about what people thought f me.

    A wise lady (my nan) once told me – ‘Who’s looking at you anyway?’ – she meant this in the nicest possible way. She meant – ‘Well, why do you care, who are they to you, I think you’re great, so who cares what anyone else thinks!’

    Just write, enjoy it and listen to my nan – don’t care what anyone else thinks – it could drive you mad and we can’t please everyne. For what it’s worth! I think your writing is pretty great!

    Helen

    Reply
    1. antijen Post author

      Your Nan is indeed wise. It’s so easy to measure one’s own worth by what others think, but that’s not a stable source of support. You’re right – I need to write for myself and get better at it, until I love it. If others do too, that’s just a bonus. Besides, people love different things, and even the most popular and critically-acclaimed work has its haters. Who’s right? Nobody. It’s all just opinions.

      Reply
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  7. Azara

    I love this post Jen, and so related to it. I thought about this a lot when I was on my mat leave, but came to the conclusion that I don’t want my writing to be critiqued, because I’m OK with my level of non-genius in that area and don’t want to publish or do anything more formal with it than connecting with others on my blog. But I’ve been doing the “expose yourself to criticism” thing with my fitness instructing and it’s so hard – congrats on entering this contest and putting yourself out there!

    Reply

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