In the last week both the Blogtacular Twitter chat and the Act on this Periscope asked “what is fear holding you back from doing?”. It hit a mark with me both times, and no doubt I could come up with some answers without too much effort, but it also got me thinking. From “what is fear stopping you doing?” the logical question is “why am I so afraid in the first place, and how do I stop?”
I’ve been blogging for 11 years now, and yet the silliest things still worry me, even when I know the fear is utterly irrational and ill founded. Last week I wrote about my favourite podcasts and when I tweeted out a link to the post I mentioned all of the wonderful and talented people who create them. It sounds obvious and simple and yet I had to force myself to do it, to make actual twitter mentions and not just use the names of the podcasts and hope to slip my little post in under the radar.
But why? Why didn’t I want them to know that I liked their podcasts? If someone likes my posts here or my pictures on Instagram and lets me know I’m absolutely thrilled. A comment that shows that something I have written has resonated with a reader absolutely makes my day, and I treasure each and every one. It’s a lack of confidence in myself that is at best, daft.
What exactly did I think would happen? Well fire and brimstone naturally, accompanied by a flurry of tweets all telling me that I’m never to listen to their podcasts again. In the event I got a couple of lovely messages saying they were glad I enjoyed it and that was that. So why did that take courage? And how do I fight a fear that has gone off on a frolic of its own?
The truth is that sending one tweet is not, from an objective point of view, the scariest thing I did last week. Looking from the outside in, the ‘scariest’ thing I did was negotiate the settlement of a claim at work. If I’d got it wrong then my client would have been unhappy, and that has an obvious impact on not only that relationship but my career as a whole. But I’ve been in practice coming on 13 years and while there are still things that fill me with nervous excitement, there’s little occasion for true fear to come into the equation (though for the record, as an NQ, much of what I do now on a daily basis was the scariest part of my day).
So what’s the difference? Why is social media, and to an even larger degree, trying to actually get somewhere as a writer, riddled with a contagious imposter syndrome, when my day job provokes it so much less?
Rather flippantly, my first reaction was “well I have a certificate to say I’m a lawyer!”. It’s true. In fact, I get a new certificate every year, even if the glory days of elaborate crests and gothic fonts when they were issued by the Law Society are long gone in favour of something from the SRA that either certifies me as a solicitor or says I’ve got food hygiene to work in my local chippy; the design of the two are near identical.
I’m not suggesting that external validation is the key to all our dreams. If anything I think that’s a scarier prospect than being a little over controlled by your fear and imposter syndrome. If your entire self worth and belief in what you do depends on how many likes your last Instagram picture got (100= best photographer in the world, 50= why are you even bothering to hold a camera you unworthy fool) then life would be a horrible lurching rollercoaster of self doubt and despair. Don’t do it.
We have to believe in ourselves, and the core motivation to follow our dreams has to be intrinsic for anything we produce to have integrity. It’s that soul in a photo or a piece of writing, or even a teeny tiny knitted baby cardigan that people respond to.
But I think there’s a trick we can borrow from my chippy food hygiene certificate. It’s been 15 years since I last sat an exam, and almost 13 years since the last time that someone submitted a formal report of my capabilities to the Law Society, and yet every year they keep issuing me a certificate assuming that my skills have only improved year on year.
Clearly to be a blogger or a writer or a whatever your dream might be you don’t need a degree, blog school, a training contract, and annual certificates, but I think that we could borrow the cumulative aspect of it. If we don’t allow our work to compete against itself by getting mired down in comparing why one post did so much better than another, but add them together as an ever increasing record, couldn’t that be that ‘certificate of competence’ to hold onto with white knuckles as you do whatever it is that scares you?
When I submitted a story to a writing competition a few weeks ago, the ‘certificate’ was every comment ever posted here; when I put something on Twitter it’s every time someone has liked or retweeted me. It’s never going to stop the silly worries or the butterflies in my tummy, but it doesn’t need to; it only needs to be just enough to take that step off the cliff edge.