I’ve been thinking about an often-cited quote from Ira Glass, host of This American Life:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
― Ira Glass
I’m feeling the gap, BIG TIME. And the only thing that seems to help me keep moving forward is to not think about where it’s going or who likes it or who hates it or if anyone even notices it.
On the morning of the Women’s March in January 2017, I was not out with the crowds holding a protest sign. I was in the emergency room having a panic attack.
A few months later, I was watching a talk show where the hosts were playing Two Truths and a Lie with some celebrity guests. If you’ve never played, here’s how it works: someone tells you three statements, two which are truthful and one which is a lie, and you have to guess which one is the lie. There were five people playing the game on the show, in three rounds, and not one of them guessed the lie in any round.
I easily guessed all three of the lies correctly, and I wondered why everyone on the show had…so much trouble?
There were signs! One person changed their tone of voice when saying the lie. Another made his lie much more specific than the truths. And in the final round, I could tell that the guest had started with a truthful statement to make it seem believable, but had embellished it with a lie at the end. It was so easy for me to see what was happening that I couldn’t imagine how none of the other guests or hosts had noticed.
But that’s how life works, isn’t it? We see other people’s talents as important and big, but our own as silly, simple and commonplace.
I’m an introvert. Every day, I take in tons of information about the world around me, and then I need alone time to process it. I read, I listen, I watch, and (hopefully!) I write. I understand human nature and I can see things others cannot, and I want to use that ability to help people and improve the world around me.
But right now, those with loud voices are screaming for change (or against it), and it can feel like the world does not have the time nor the space for the type of gifts an introvert can give. Every day I read invitations to join a protest or a rally. I see activists confronting politicians and demanding to be heard. I am so grateful for their work, and yet those kinds of actions feel overwhelming and out of character to me as an introvert. I feel guilty that I’m not making more of an obvious impact, and that I can’t “put aside” my personality for important causes. In the past, I would resolve to change this, and then a few days later feel completely burned out from acting in a way that doesn’t reflect who I really am.
But trying to deny your gifts is never the way to bring about change in the world. If you are an introvert like me, and struggle with how to both make a difference in the world and still be true to yourself, here are some things that might help:
Don’t assume other people see the same things that you see. THEY DO NOT.
Stop thinking others are more qualified than you. They’re not. They’re just louder.
Pay attention to your community – Your gifts of attention, empathy and intuition are important to those around you. You can make so much impact one-on-one with another person, whose pain or trauma may be too hidden for most to see. But you have an ability to hold space for others, to listen without immediate action, judgement or expectation. Do not underestimate how important this is. I think if there is one place in which an introvert should push themselves to growth, this is it. Reach out to those around you (one-on-one, in person or through your writing). Use your ability to see deeper truths to help connect with others and be an outlet for growth and change on a personal level.
Help others make sense of information, and to see patterns and systems of thought they may miss. One great tactic is to find a friendly extrovert with an open mind and tell them all about your ideas and the things you see. They can help spread your ideas and amplify your voice.
Practice sharing your gifts. This might be challenging at first, but it is absolutely possible. And the more you practice, the easier it will become. Writing is a great way to begin (this post is me walkin’-the-walk, my friends!).
Don’t look back. Don’t judge yourself on your first efforts, your worst efforts, or your non-efforts. Pick one thing you can change and be in the moment in this ONE thing. Remind yourself that it is enough. It is everything.
“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
-David W. Orr
It’s okay if you get anxious in crowds. It’s okay if you feel nervous to call your senator. Maybe one day you will do these things, or maybe not. Either way, you are important and your gifts are important, and you need to get comfortable using them. You can answer the call to action in YOUR OWN VOICE, quiet though it may be. The world needs you, just as you are.
P.S. If you’re looking for some introvert kindred spirits (besides me!), here are a few:
The saying goes that you are the sum of the five people closest to you in your life. I’d say that’s probably a useful idea in some contexts (changing your habits, getting support for your goals) and really harmful in others (like abusive relationships or feeling trapped in a job or career you don’t want).
But one thing I know for sure is that what I read, watch and listen to on a regular basis determines largely the quality of my experiences, along with the self-care and optimism I allow myself on any given day. If you’re interested, here are a few of the voices that I love and that help me to remember this world is a good place and there are always people paying attention:
Ashley C. Ford
Ashley reminds me that all of the things I try to hide about myself are the things I should actually be broadcasting loudly to the world. The first time I read her writing, it felt so real to my own thoughts that I lost a good three hours diving into as much of her work as I could find. One of my favorites was about living like you’re 40 in your 20s.
It’s nearly impossible to not feel happy watching this video of a talk she gave at the 99u conference earlier this year, where she struts around the stage with her colorful overalls and a giant grin. And when she starts telling her story you will be riveted (her talk starts at 2:22).
Austin’s blog is one that I read every. single. day. without. fail. He has such an earnest and authentic voice, and a great eye for digging up the magical within the seemingly mundane. He calls himself a writer who draws, and he embodies the kind of “I’m-this-but-also-this-and-a-little-of-that-too-and-look-how-they-all-complement-each-other” career trajectory that I admire and that inspires me to step out of my comfort zone. He’s written a series of books about creativity that are small in stature but packed with so much great wisdom and real talk, in a fun and friendly voice. I met him recently on his book tour and he is as nice and down to earth in person as I imagined he would be. I think anyone who is looking to embrace more creativity in their lives should read as much as they can from Austin, but here are a few recent favorites: Operational Transparency, his podcast interview with Crafty Ass Female, and below, the hilarious What we did when you went to bed.
I’ll be writing more later this month about some of Austin’s ideas that have inspired me. Can’t wait to dig in to that!
Heather writes the Ask Polly advice column for New York magazine. If you’ve never read it, it’s less Dear Abby and more a weekly essay-length dive into the human psyche in a sometimes uncomfortable, often poignant and always honest fashion. Heather rips off the Band-aid from the wound you thought you were hiding so well from the world, and then proceeds to console you with the harsh yet comforting reality that yes, it was totally obvious this whole time, but no one was paying any attention to it anyway. Then she gives you the advice you need to hear, about taking care of yourself, admitting your limitations as a human, and realizing it’s okay to ask for what you need. Here’s an excerpt from a recent column where an overworked reader lamented that wanting to leaving their job to focus on law school made them feel like a “quitter” and that they were ashamed when they got a full 8 hours of sleep a night when they should be getting more done:
You are killing yourself. Do you hear me? And you need to stop that. You have a body with limits. Live inside of it. Listen to it. You are here to enjoy your life. That is your first job.
So train your head to say new things. Be relentless about THAT. This is not a choice between torturing yourself with 100 hours of work a week and turning into a useless quitter on the couch. It’s a choice between happiness and self-destruction. Stop destroying yourself, and start honoring your feelings and your heart.
She recently published a book of essays, which I haven’t read yet but am dying to dig into. And for those of us who like a bit (or in this case a truckload) of sarcasm with our advice, she’s started a newsletter written by Ask Polly’s evil twin sister, Ask Molly. This lady has many layers and I love them all.
Finally, Nadine Stair…or at the least the idea of her
There’s a poem that makes the rounds on the internet now and again, attributed to an 85-year old Louisville woman named Nadine Stair. But Nadine Stair did not write the poem, nor did Nadine Stair likely ever exist at all. Wikipedia says the earliest version of the poem was written by American humorist Don Herald in the 1930s, then published in Readers’ Digest in 1953. It was later translated into Spanish and passed around in email chains, where it was often incorrectly attributed to the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. When it was finally included in an anthology of writing about women and aging, the fictitious Nadine Stair was listed as the author in order to make it appeal to female readers.
Now, I have no idea what is or isn’t true about the history of this poem, but it really doesn’t matter to me. It’s just a lovely poem that inspires me. And it’s a great reminder that not only should you pay attention to the voices you let into your head, you should also pay attention to what those voices inspire you to DO and to BE.
Here is a modern version of the poem:
If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d limber up.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances,
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would, perhaps, have more actual troubles but fewer imaginary ones.
you see, I’m one of those people who was sensible and sane,
hour after hour,
day after day.
Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over again,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else- just moments,
one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.
I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.
If I had to live my life over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances,
I would ride more merry-go-rounds,
I would pick more daisies.
– Nadine Stair
It’s Sunday night, and the work week starts tomorrow for many of us. Just remember, when you head back out into the world, that you may not always be able to choose the people around you, but you can absolutely choose the voices you let into your head. Feel free to borrow some of mine, or tell me about your favorites in the comments!
How is it JUNE already? It seems like only yesterday that I was making New Years resolutions on which I had no realistic intention of following through. But now, well, here we are with bathing suit season upon us and I managed to forget every day for five months that I wasn’t going to eat bread or that I was REALLY going to try to get into morning meditation.
But let’s move on from the perpetual shortcomings of “January” me. “Summer” me really wants to start writing more regularly, so I’ve decided to set myself a task of posting something here every day in the month of June.
Now you may be thinking, “crap on a cracker, Jenna, that’s THIRTY posts, and you’ve posted less than ten times in the last FOUR YEARS. This is never going to happen.”
Well, first off, your bad attitude is the reason we can’t have nice things.
Just kidding, that’s not you speaking, it’s me. Or, more specifically, the me who doesn’t meditate and considers sourdough bread its own food group. But SUMMER me, she is an eternal optimist, and she says “you got this, lady, it will be fun!” And since she is the one currently running the show and getting ready to squeeze herself into a swimsuit (sourdough bits be damned), this is what we’re doing now.
I want to explore some fun stuff that I like, love, or just think about regularly, and that I often assume other people aren’t interested in. But maybe you are! And if not…well, it’s my name on the blog, after all, so let’s just dig in, shall we?
In an effort to hold myself to some sort of standard and not just prattle on aimlessly for a month, here’s my rough plan for the remaining (29) topics for the month. They are in no particular order and with no particular context (you’ll just have to wait and see!):
The Saturday tub
Books I’m Reading Now
Drawing for non-drawers
An introvert’s guide to saving the world
How many Ss in Crossssstitch?
Getting Things Done
Hallmark, why aren’t you better?
Color coding and why it makes everything better
If you’re reading this, sorry but you probably need to be your own Julie
Everyone needs (and has) a story
How to be a minor expert
You should be doing puzzles
Some of the voices in my head
My inability to commit
Some tips that may or may not make your life better
The case for Jill Clayburgh
Finding your purpose
Why a workshop?
How did this go?
I’m excited/nauseous but I think we’ll all come through this okay (both bathing suit season and the blog posts). Come back tomorrow for more!
The world has a love affair with pointing out a person’s strengths and weaknesses.
They just adore telling us that to get ahead (whatever that means) we need to learn to maximize our strengths instead of focusing on our weaknesses. People say it a lot, they write it a lot, and it irritates me…a lot. Not because it’s not true (it probably is), but because it’s not the point of the whole endeavor.
When you’re ready for the next big thing, your unconscious can bring it to your attention in some scary ways. Anger, jealousy, desire, crazy energetic bursts: they’re all here. And the question that we always ask ourselves, is how to move from the uncomfortable FEELING to the satisfied DOING?
The past few years have been a tumultuous time for me. I would hesitate to call it a “rough patch” or a “dark period,” though truthfully it has been those things at times. I’ve been diving deep into the shadows of myself, wrestling with them, accepting them, slowly but surely giving the world a glimpse of the things I’ve kept hidden for so long, for fear I would be judged unworthy. And in the light of day and within the warm space that opens from completely emptying one’s self, I’ve come out the other side, broken and reassembled, cleansed and infinitely freer.