When I left my job of nearly five years in January, I was anticipating all the free time I would have to dedicate to new creative ideas. My job had me working a lot of hours — more than full time, if I’m honest — and required a lot of emotional investment and near-constant stress, so creativity wasn’t something I’d been able to indulge for awhile. If you need an illustration of this, look at how few things I published in 2015. Amongst all the editing and other stuff I was doing, it was a hard-fought battle to find time and focus enough to write something of my own.
So I left. And that free time I was looking forward to was not forthcoming. I was freelance editing and trying to decide which of three book ideas I wanted to develop into a proposal. I met and joined forces with a literary agent I really, really like (more on this at some future time) who has been instrumental in getting my shit together to try to make another book real. And then there was Mystery Science Theater 3000. My MST3K involvement developed in fits and starts, as such things often do. I worked on the Kickstarter campaign last year, and then I was going to write on an episode. Then one episode was going to be two episodes, and then a more lengthy role as Riff Producer (title subject to change, Joel came up with it) happened along and then I had an hour or two with the writing group in the morning followed by four to five hours in the afternoon working with Joel. Suddenly I was working more than full time again, combined with the freelance work I was doing on the side.
I was overjoyed. MST3K has been, sincerely, my favorite job that I’ve ever had. And it was a needed reminder that I can do other things. When I left my editor position in January, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to keep working in digital media. At least not in the editorial capacity where I’d been (or at least not unless I was in charge). It is an industry fighting daily for its own survival, and despite this struggle it is also an industry that often makes inexplicable choices that blow up in its face — or in the faces of its employees. Even writing for a Kickstarter-funded TV show felt more stable than finding another editorial gig.
But more than that, in my rudderless state I wanted to say yes to everything — any opportunity, no matter how foreign-sounding or terrifying, I just said yes. And they were all terrifying, because I am easily terrified by things that I don’t already know how to do. I don’t jibe with the idea that brave people are those who don’t feel fear; I think brave people are the ones shivering with terror, but who do the scary thing anyway. I try to be brave. I try pretty much every day.
I have a lot of fear. My biggest fear has always been making a mistake. I’d like to tell you that as I’ve gotten older, this fear’s hold on me has lessened, but it’s just as strong as it ever was. I am horrified by the prospect of being wrong. And yet I am wrong all the time. I make mistakes with professional vigor, like it’s my gift, like it’s my calling in life. It doesn’t get easier, but it does become a familiar sensation. Each time I learn again to try the thing, to mess up, to forgive myself, to recover and learn and get better and go forward. Now when I feel scared of an opportunity I know I have to take it — it’s a signal that this is something I must do, because the other important thing I’ve figured out is that I am only afraid of the things at which I know I am capable of succeeding. I don’t fear the things I can’t do, because who cares? I’m already certain I’ll never be an Olympic gymnast or a conceptual artist or the kind of person who has an organized underwear drawer all the time and not just for a day or two after they’ve tidied it up. I don’t fear these things at all, I will demonstrate the world’s worst cartwheel for you and not feel even a bit regretful when I look ridiculous. I am only afraid of the stuff I know I can do because I don’t want to fuck it up. I don’t want to be wrong. I don’t want to make a mistake.
It has only been in the past week that I finally got any of that free time. Yeah, seven months later. My freelance work has evaporated, the writing for MST3K is done, and all that’s left is me, and a book proposal which is close to done but not quite yet, and a TV spec script I’m writing because I want to prove to myself that I still remember how to write my own script from scratch despite the 17 years since I last did so. My schedule is my own to determine, and I’m remembering why it’s so much easier to work for a visionary to bring their vision to life, versus trying to have the vision yourself.
This is me, irrationally feeling like a failure.
It is an absurd, outrageous feeling. I am angry at my own brain for being so ungrateful, for having no perspective, for persisting in the notion that I haven’t done enough. I haven’t done enough, when I have written at least 30,000 words toward a new book, when I have contributed to the revival of a television series that was arguably the strongest media influence on my whole life. I have to fight to remember how proud I am of the writing I’ve done this year, even if only a few people have seen it (so far). When I ask myself, “What do you think you should have done?” I struggle to answer. I should have finished that spec script already? I should have the book proposal done. I should have found ten new jobs. I should have been blogging weekly, daily, hourly. I should have started my own publication and it should have thirty million monthly uniques. I should I should, I didn’t, I failed. Anxiety, ambition and perfectionism are toxic tendrils streaming through my self esteem, working hard to convince me nothing is good enough. Diluting them requires constant vigilance.
I am a big fan of the whole fake-it-til-you-make-it philosophy. It’s worked for me too many times to discount it. But I also want to leave room to acknowledge that I can’t always be the hyperconfident warrior that I might seem. Most of the time I am going to push past the self-doubt on my own, but sometimes I want to share it with you. However irrational these feelings may be, they exist and I have to deal with them, and I suspect I’m not the only one.
My plan was to write this out and just let it disappear down the recently-edited list in Google Docs. The ability to project unwavering confidence is such a huge part of being successful, and so sharing my internal conflicts and ambivalence seems unwise, if not outright risky. But pretending it doesn’t happen won’t make it less real. It only makes it something shameful. I am afraid of publishing this, which I means it’s a thing I probably have to do.
I’ll let you know what I decide.