Part II of the “Self-Annoyed: Solopreneurship Done Write” series, where I openly battle for control over my mindset + wrestle with cultural myths about success.
I didn’t even think twice about the email when it landed in my inbox. Trisha and I emailed one another fairly often, exchanging advice and lessons learned en route to building our respective badass businesses. Although we work in two different fields – I as a writer, she as a career consultant/ coach – the skill set upon which we both rely is markedly similar, as is our approach to managing the doubt demons of entrepreneurial living.
So, it was no surprise to see her latest message there, bolded in my inbox. Caught between the pressure to get my kids clothed, fed, and prepped for a morning at the park and the ceaseless desire to maintain a clean and organized email interface, I casually clicked and skimmed through the words.
“Hey, friend…. writing help… bio… thanks!” In an early morning stupor, it slowly dawned on me that Trisha was asking for my help with her work bio – something I consider to be “my total jam.” I felt honored and not a little bit pleased with myself. See, this was not the first message of the sort that I’d received that week. In fact, it was the third. THIRD. That means three whole friends needed content work done and they thought of ME.
It’s happening. I’m becoming a sought-after expert. People know me. I’m kind of a big deal.
And with that, my fate was sealed. Filled with pride and the tingly anticipation of the awesome gift I was about to bestow on these three lucky friends, I set up some phone appointments to “find out more.”
I am truly an artist at work **brushes shoulder off**
On the phone with Trisha the following week, we hit all the right talking points. We discussed fees, chatted about Trisha’s business, and ever so briefly touched on project goals. We agreed that her business was very much in a state of flux, and in my gut, I sensed that it was not the right time to take on the reworking of her content.
But what did I do? I ignored it. Why?
Well, greed played a pretty big part. I could already see Trisha’s glowing review of my work, which would surely wow my potential clients and make me look gooooood.
Stubborn determination won out, as well. The thoughts flowing through my mind read something like, Hey, you’re a fucking professional. You can make ANY content better. You can rock any project, even if it feels like a bad fit. Hell yeah. Right on. I’ve got this.
But I also just really, really wanted to help a friend. I wanted to prove to Trisha that approaching me with her project was a good decision and that I could handle it. I wanted her to think well of me and my writing. I wanted to come through for her.
All of that weighed on my mind while my gut repeatedly played the Jaws theme song. Shut up, gut. You’re just scared.
It’s difficult at times to separate a “gut feeling” from vague self-doubt and fear of messing up. At the time of Trisha’s call, I honestly couldn’t decipher whether it was fear telling me to say no, or entrepreneurial intuition.
So, I said yes and plunged bravely ahead. I moved forward, glad for the opportunity to test out my procedure on a friendly guinea pig. I put together a survey filled with questions about Trisha and her business. She returned it within a week.
A few days later, a sunny afternoon on the California coast had me feeling all Jenji Kohan and shit, so I sat down to hammer out the finest piece of content the world has ever seen. With a single tear of satisfaction and a round of applause for myself, I hit the “Send” button, completely certain that I had just tripled Trisha’s client list using nothing but a keyboard.
And then, I waited.
A day passed. Then two. Maybe she hasn’t read it yet. Or, maybe she’s read it and is so deeply moved, she’s having difficulty putting her feelings into words. Another day passed. Then another. I could feel my pride deflating like a sad balloon abandoned after an office party.
The following morning, it appeared: another message from Trisha. Eager to soak in her feedback, but equally fearful that it might not be awesome, I avoided the email for an entire day. Finally, after doing everything possible to escape reading it, I had no more excuses – the kids were in bed, the house was pristine, the dog was sleeping, the husband was watching TV. Unlocking my phone screen, I steeled myself and read the email.
It was brief, but kind. My content was appreciated, but didn’t quite hit the mark. I was crushed. Wow, you really botched it. And you call yourself a writer? What a short-lived shit show this has been.
I could feel the weight of failure sitting squarely on my chest. And it wasn’t Trisha’s fault. These were my issues, my insecurities, the increasingly apparent chinks in my armor.
FAIL. You have failed. You are a failure.
For the rest of the week, I avoided my work. My head hung heavy. I lost my temper with the kids (and cried openly) more than once. The feeling of failure colored absolutely everything I did and every conversation I attempted.
Until one morning, over a fancy pants cup of collagen coffee, it hit me: I made a mistake. That doesn’t make this whole venture a mistake. So, I didn’t knock this project out of the park. That doesn’t mean the project is a failure, nor does it make ME a failure.
My mental dialogue shifted from “I failed at this, therefore I suck” (which, by the way, creates a never-ending vicious cycle of self-criticism that only leads further into the depths of despair) to “I made a few mistakes on this project, so next time I will…”
… ask more clarifying questions… listen to my gut… take it easy on myself…
Because I’m not quitting. I might not be the belle of the ball right now, but I’m still at the party… somewhere in the wings… eating my feelings… ooo, are those cheese balls?
Sometimes a tiny shift in perspective is just enough to crowbar open a window and let the smallest sliver of light into your self-imposed prison cell. The eyes of your pitiful, shrunken ego will squint in the direction of the bright and brilliant glimmer, while your soul breathes deep the sudden warmth. Rising feebly to your feet, you’ll stare failure right in its ugly little face and tell it where to go park its beat-up Winnebago.
On someone else’s turf, that’s where.
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