Many years ago, after a few half-baked attempts, I finished a novel.
Once finished, I began the process of pitching and submitting. As it goes with most writers, I received a lot of rejections, one after another, endlessly. I had always known this was a possibility, that this was the reality of the business, but experiencing it was more crushing than I had anticipated.
After a while, my resolve broke and I stopped submitting. Despite this, I still believed in myself as a writer. It was the only thing I’d ever really felt sure of – I was meant to be a writer.
Unable to let go and move on, I did something I would forever regret. I self-published the book. I just wanted it to be out there, and I figured once it was, something, anything would happen. After I put together my whole package, the thing I feared worst happened – nothing.
I became a drop in the ocean of self-published works. I was a nobody in a sea of nobodys. This step was harder on me than all the rejections combined. I sold few copies, and of those I did, the reviews that didn't come from friends and family were negative.
At this point, my fear turned to shame. I had failed. There was no denying it. The fact that I had self-published the book meant everyone knew. I had desperately tried to get book sales to happen, and in doing so, had told everyone about my book.
The realization that this project had imploded settled into me. I was drowning in feelings of failure and inadequacy. I needed to feel supported, and so I began talking to people about what I was feeling. And this was when the cheerleading began.
Every time I tried to tell someone I had failed they would nearly shout at me “NO YOU DIDN’T!” They wanted to tell me that I had WRITTEN A BOOK (I was aware) and that I had PUBLISHED THAT BOOK (I was also aware of this). The way people reacted to my feelings nearly gave me whiplash. All I wanted was space to feel what I was feeling, and everyone around me was denying my perspective of it. They refused to even let me whisper “I feel like a failure.”
In order to respond to other people's experiences we'll often ask ourselves how it would feel if it was us. Sometimes, we just can't handle the pitfalls of other peoples' lives. We want to change them and fix them because they scare and hurt us by proximity.
The desire to tell me I hadn’t failed was well-intentioned, but it didn’t help. Instead, it solidified for me that failure is the worst thing that can happen, and it’s so awful, you have to deny it’s existence.
This denial negated my experience and my journey. Yes, I wrote a book, and for a lot of people that would be considered a huge accomplishment. But that wasn’t what I wanted, my goal for success was something else, and I had failed to reach it. Because no one allowed me space to breathe into this, I learned to smother my feelings.
I buried all this fear and shame and doubt and covered it with a million pounds of rocks. But burying unresolved feelings just pollutes the soil of your soul. You can bury it, but it’s still in there, seeping into the ground you’re trying to rebuild on.
Eventually, I got the courage to begin writing again. I switched gears and began writing screenplays. But this time, I felt uncontrollable anxiety around the entire process. No matter what I did, I was stuck with a rock in my stomach and a lump in my throat.
It wasn’t until I sat quietly with myself, and looked back, that I realized what I was so afraid of was failure. Because I had already failed once, and had never dealt with it, I was terrified of it happening again. I needed to move through those feelings, to accept them, to love them, and to know they’re just that - feelings.
There’s a big difference between feeling like a failure and believing you are a failure. It’s okay to fail. It happens to everyone. In fact, the more success someone has, the more likely they are to have a stack of failures. Learning to navigate these feelings, and to not make them into something bigger than they are, is an essential part of the process.
As a culture, we are constantly encouraging people to go chase their dreams. This is a wonderful thing, and a big part of why I began at all. But until we learn how to let people stumble and fall, we’re encouraging based on the caveat that only success is acceptable. That’s a level of pressure no one can live up to.
Putting yourself out there encompasses all aspects – success, failure, and everything in between.
Trying isn’t just about getting out there and conquering any and all obstacles. It’s a whole journey, and we are still learning how to give ourselves and others space to move through all parts of it. All parts are valid and important, and all feelings, when expressed and moved through fully, lead us into greater awareness and depth of being.