Bittersweetness: The Fear

Waaaay back in 2011, I received my master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern. The program itself was difficult and intense, and there were times when I hated it more than I’ve hated anything in my life. I’ve been a decent writer for as long as I can remember, and skated through high school and college with essays penned in the wee small hours of the morning before they were due. I can count on one hand the number of times I did not get an “A” on a paper in high school and college (because I collapsed into a puddle of tears each time).

So, studying something I felt skilled at in one of the best schools in America seemed like it would be a natural fit. Except no one tells you how daunting it can be to go from being the best writer in your class to a room full of people who were all the best writers in their respective classes. It’s humbling, in a good way. I got the famous Medill “F” on my very first day at Medill, and immediately after, made a tearful call to my mom, announcing I’d be home in a couple weeks because obviously I was going to flunk out. I didn’t. But I didn’t do much better. Most of my classmates readily accepted the challenge of becoming better writers and cub journalists, but I was paralyzed by fear of failure, or a fear that I wasn’t actually as good as I thought I was. No English teacher in my life had ever challenged me to become a better writer, and when faced with the chance to become better at it, I took any critique as a sign that I wasn’t any good at all. There were glimmers of hope, and occasionally, I would turn out articles that even surprised me for how good they were. But time and again, my instructors would take me aside and say the only thing keeping me back from not just being a good writer but a great writer was my self-confidence. Which, in and of itself, is something that doesn’t necessarily make you feel better and increase your confidence. For someone paralyzed by fear of failure, it only serves to highlight another something you’re failing at. But it’s something that has stayed with me.

When I set up this blog, I was filled with courage. Almost certainly it was liquid courage, but I felt like this was my chance to take up something that I loved to do and that made me extremely happy, even if I couldn’t make a living off of it. At points, I set up editorial calendars and came up with regular cadences for updates. I set up a Facebook page, I changed the name of my Twitter account, and one of my Medill classmates even approached me about writing posts on The Huffington Post’s blog. I recapped The Bachelor/Bachelorette. Occasionally, my work schedule or family commitments would get in the way, but the huge chunks of time between posts very often have little to do with my schedule, and everything to do with me being terrified. What should this blog be about? What’s my voice? What’s my brand? Is anyone reading? I came up with a million excuses for why I couldn’t do it, why it was pointless, and why I should abandon the blog entirely, or just pretend it didn’t exist. I don’t travel enough to make this a travel blog, and my life of 9-5 is nowhere near glamorous enough to warrant a lifestyle blog (Sample post: Secrets to my skin? Genetics). I read lots of blogs and feel twinges of jealousy—it’s not that I don’t have the skill to write, it’s that I haven’t decided that it’s something I need to do and committed myself to the hard work that needs to be done to become a better writer. None of the questions that have hobbled me and served as excuses for not writing actually matter—no one is going to read my blog if I haven’t written anything, and there’s no voice to worry about if there are no posts to read.

Time and white wine have made me understand that my relationship to writing is a metaphor for many facets of my life. Scared of not doing well makes me do nothing at all. One of my biggest regrets in life so far is that I didn’t take full advantage of my time at Medill because I was scared that I wouldn’t be great. I remember all the classes, the pro-tips from instructors, and the hours I spent in class studying the art of storytelling, and I’m hopeful that this blog will give me the opportunity to finally apply those lessons.

Long story short—I need to write and mom, please feel free to harass me if I haven’t written recently.

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