What a huge question. Sit with it. Gnaw at the edges of it. Roll it around your mouth. Like it’s hot and it’ll burn you if it sits still for too long.
I roll possible answers around the inside of my cheeks, across the roof of my mouth and over my tongue. With a mouthful of marbles, I’m choking on all the things that scare me, but which one is the thing that’s actually holding me back?
When my friend asked me this question last week, she wasn’t asking for a list of fears. She wasn’t asking how quickly I run to my bed once I’ve switched off the light at night. Or about that time when I was twelve and for a few seconds, my feet couldn’t find the seabed and I almost drowned and how I still have nightmares of the way it felt as I fought against the tide. Or if I’m worried about the morning, when somewhere in the distant future, I might wake up, alone. She was specifically referring to my writing and my career. What is it that scares me so much that I’m almost frozen? Trapped in this limbo of fear and insecurity.
And when I say it out loud, it sounds so silly, so childish, so full of insecurity.
I am afraid that anyone who has ever said that my writing is good is just being nice to me. That actually, I have no talent beyond the regular person who is able to read-and-write and that these words that are crammed in my throat and pour out of me and onto the page, these words that I spend hours thinking about every day, are just completely average.
I am afraid that every.single.thing about me is average. Mundane. Fine.
How do you confront that fear? The more I write, the more that anyone compliments my work or validates my writing, the more it feeds this feeling that people are just being nice and that there is absolutely nothing that actually stands out. I recently wrote an article for The Everyday Magazine about imposter syndrome and how somewhere along the road of my early 20s, imposter syndrome knocked at the door, with a moving van unloading behind them and declared that they were here to stay. Maybe this is me, my insecurity and my relationship with my self-esteem to my core.
Scott, my partner, and I go round and round this conversation. I write something, the feedback is good or even great, and I’m elated, maybe even validated for a second, a minute, an hour. I tell Scott, and he replies: See! You’re the only person that doesn’t know how good you are. But it doesn’t sink in, instead in creeps these years of self-doubt to remind me that anyone who’s ever complimented something I’ve written are just being kind and all the honest people are being even kinder, by saying nothing at all.
Where has this come from? When I was in my early twenties, I was in an emotionally draining and toxic relationship, living together and engaged, before he ghosted me one day. Out of the blue. Over the course of two years, he gradually undermined every bit of confidence that I had; is this lingering feelings of not being enough, leftover from a relationship that ended almost eight years ago? No one has ever told me that my writing is bad (to my face) and Scott has spent almost five years telling me that I’m excellent at everything I touch. Shouldn’t these external influences have balanced out by now? In the way that this doubt and insecurity has crept in and leaked into everything I do, shouldn’t have Scott’s belief in my ability have done the same by now?
But of course, it hasn’t. That’s not how we’re programmed to work, at least, I’m not, anyway. I want to believe that I’m talented, that when I write something and someone replies, ‘this is perfect, thanks!’, that they mean it. I have no reason to doubt these countless people that I’ve worked with, but I do.
The thing is, I’ve built my whole life around being a writer. I am a writer. I write things. All day long, in my head, on scraps of paper, in the notes section of my phone, for clients and magazines. I write for other people and they pay me for it. I’ve constantly got a hurricane of words tearing through me and I don’t know to do, or be, anything else. So how can I bring these opposites together, how can I quell this constant, ongoing battle of insecurity and quieten it enough that I actually promote myself confidently so I can do more of this thing I love? I don’t know.
This doesn’t really have a satisfactory ending, there’s no wrapping this one up. But sometimes, I guess that’s just life. It’s muddled and messy and confusing and there is no neat bow to tie it all together, so this piece just stops. And sometimes, that’s just the way things are.