I was asked to video myself giving a minute or so “Why you should attend…” talk a while ago. I’m old enough that selfies are generally something my peer group mocks mercilessly, and I’m extremely unlikely to take a selfie unless it’s with a good friend or my daughter because I feel so self-conscious selfie-ing. In spite of years on stage doing crazy things, that video was one of the scariest things I’d ever done. The wild part about that is, if you put me on a stage to say the exact same thing to a room full of people, I would have felt completely at ease. But to send a video out into the interwebs means that the bit was filmed without any live feedback, and I had to wait to see if anyone liked the post. A live audience offers subtle clues before they throw rotten tomatoes, so that’s a gig I can handle.
The same thing happens when I write. I feel fairly confident when I sit down to publish a blog post; it’s a short work, it’s easy enough to take down or edit if it bombed once I publish it, and there are really only a few opinions I worry about. Blog work feels a lot like stage work. It’s a fairly quick feedback loop. Not too scary – just enough nerves to keep me frosty. I feel a bit of terror for a few seconds after I click on “publish,” and some days I stalk the stats page when I’m searching for approval, but the anxiety vanishes pretty quickly.
I thought the selfie video was terrifying until I decided to ask about a dozen people for feedback on a book project I’ve been working on for several years now. At that point, I had the entire thing roughed out as an outline, and the first chapter was pretty polished. (As of Saturday, the first draft is officially complete!) I’ve told a few people what I’m working on, but I haven’t been excitedly announcing that I’m working on a book. Someone may ask to see it if I tell them what I’m doing. If they see it, they may read it. And if they read it, they may not like it. If they don’t like it, they may not like me… It’s the horrid adult introvert version of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie!”
I was effectively paralyzed for the better part of a year because I’m afraid if I finish and publish a book, it won’t be good and no one will like it; therefore no one will like me. It’s better to just say, “I’m working on a book,” and you’ll all think I sound very authorly, even though I’m not being the author God called me to be. The most miserable part about that is that I’m telling God I don’t trust him to fulfill what he called me to do. I know I’m supposed to be writing; he’s given me a wellspring of creativity for ideas; I have three things right now that are bigger works I know I am called to finish. When I avoid working on the book, I feel pressure to work on it. Sometimes I feel guilty, and I know it’s a guilty feeling from God because it comes with the desire to correct it and focus on the work he’s given me. (Theologically speaking, that classifies this feeling as conviction rather than just guilt. Guilt without a prompt to put yourself back under God’s direction is not from God.)
And so we come to a late hour, wherein I had decided to choose a group of people I trusted and whose opinions I highly valued and set up a Facebook message. I had the group listed, and I was under the false impression that attachments in Messenger would operate like e-mail attachments. I clicked on the attachment and prepared to write my message, then ponder whether or not to send it (and probably chicken out…). Except Messenger doesn’t work at all like e-mail, so when I clicked on the attachment, it sent it. I was not ready for that. I may have panicked a little – enough that I couldn’t breathe for at least a minute. And then I realized I sent a random attachment to a dozen or so people with zero explanation. All my plans to carefully craft a request for feedback were out the window. I furiously typed an explanation and went in search of chocolate to assuage my heart palpitations.
But nothing horrible happened. I didn’t die. No one ridiculed me or ended our friendship, no matter what they thought of my work. I had let my fear control me until my Facebook Messenger ineptitude forced me to confront it. That in itself was freeing. Receiving several words of encouragement was incredible.
I’m always going to struggle with criticism because it’s in my perfectionist nature to take it personally, but if I’m writing from the ideas God gives me, I only need to worry about what he thinks; no other audience matters.
What about you? What are you afraid to do but know you should be doing? What’s stopping you from taking action and facing the fear? How likely is it that the horrible scenario in your head will actually happen if you act? What can you do to help you move closer to facing that fear?