Photo by Jennifer Upton
I’ve been spending way too much time lately wondering how other people see me. Am I liked? Am I liked enough? Are people getting it right? This is a hazard of the writing profession, of having a sensitive personality, and of being human and a social creature.
The saddest thing about it is that it is so boring. There is nothing in the world more boring than sitting around wondering whether or not you’re doing it all wrong.
This is not really an announcement — the mood I’m in more like an anti-announcement — but some of you may remember that I applied to be a speaker at my local TEDx event. For those to whom that isn’t a familiar acronym, the TED talks are a somewhat prestigious line of lectures, given live, but featured and spread online. It’s the sort of thing you might set as a goal (not that I really did), along the lines of, Bucket List, #17: Give my own TED talk.
I made my application on a brave day in the summer. I gotta throw some blame on my friend Seth Haines, who skipped right over the question of whether or not I should apply and went right to working on my topic. I made my application and then forgot about it for a couple of months. Now, unless the committee mistook and confused me with someone else, which is something I’m not quite ready to rule out, I seem to have gotten the slot.
(That is supposed to be a comic book style scream.)
So, yeah. Wait. Some of you are missing a key piece of information. Did you know that three out of four people suffer from a fear of public speaking? Yup. Guess who’s one of them?
Funny thing is, I’ve done it fairly often. I’ve done quite a bit of public speaking, in some way or another, and I’m not half bad at it. I’ve also spent a lot of time hiding my shaking hands behind the podium, nursing headaches before and after…in all ways basically spending a ton of time worrying about whether or not I’m doing it wrong.
I had all the familiar feelings, finding out that I had been selected for this particular speaking opportunity. One part of me knows that I’m completely qualified. In fact, I’m perfect for this particular event. The other part of me feels empty and false.
I’ve been faking it all this time, just barely pulling it off. My friends are all smarter and better speakers than I am. Who do I think I am pretending to be?
There’s a funny circular thing, too. I’m sure none of you have ever experienced this. But as soon that voice gets in, that wants to tell you that you’re not the authentic item, then you also have an uncontrollable urge to watch everybody else, especially the everybody who seems more successful and coherent and confident and more valuable than you.
The very same people who could have been your role models, encouraging you by providing proof of what is possible, instead become living proof of your illegitimacy.
Who said, “Comparison is the thief of joy?” THEY WERE NOT KIDDING.
I love watching TED talks. It’s one of my favorite things, right up there with reading books and hanging out with farm animals. But comparison steals my enjoyment, right out, like sucking the juice from an orange. All the TED talks in the world are just people who are smarter and more interesting than I am.
Then all of life is just drab…just drained of color. I’ve lived this way more days than I want to admit. I might have lived a lot more days this way, except that once I threw myself right off the merry-go-round and reorganized my priorities.
What saves me?
Work saves me. The work of my brain if I can get there, but first the work of my hands. It can save me from feelings of illegitimacy, inauthenticity, confusion, identity seeking — all of it. Who knew? Who knew that my fragile, oversensitive, ambitious soul could be touched by kneading bread, rolling out egg noodles…carrying 12 wheelbarrow loads of chipped bark to spread on the terrace where next year we’ll plant corn?
I’ve heard that motivation is a key motivator, meaning that you feel more like accomplishing things if you feel like you are accomplishing things. Sometimes that ennui or self-obsession or obstruction is simply a lack of confidence writ large. And the answer isn’t to self flagellate, or self-obsess or even get a makeover. The answer is to simply get to work. Do something you can do, and you may suddenly realize your feet are under you again, where they belong.
Do one thing, and then another thing, and then another. Before long you’ll be interesting again. And authentic, too. Whenever you get stuck…just do one thing. Then the question of what others do or don’t think of you will no longer have weight enough to pull the sweetness out of your true, vibrant life.
PS. Because of this in my life right now, and a timely note from a long ago friend, I’m doing my #31days this October on simple tasks and the work of my hands. Working on a cute title. (And maybe this year I’ll even pull off a button.) But that’s the general gist of what it will be about. See you there!