Thursday, January 19, 2012
I have been sitting here in my cozy coffee shop for the past few years pounding away at the keyboard, crafting words, posting to blog and downing lattes in the hopes that something I say may matter or move, that some part of what is in my head may be just the word that one of you needs to hear at just the moment that you read it or that maybe you will come back to it at some point in your future. In addition to posting my thoughts on various life topics, I have also been working on telling my story, the story of me as a little girl, the story of my growing up experience, a story of poverty and lack, a story of social issues such as inadequate healthcare, housing, food, and heat, a story of educational opportunity and the impact it can make on breaking a cycle, a cycle that so negatively impacts growth on every possible dimension. My story is a story of strength and determination and perseverance. It is a story of growth and change and overcoming obstacles. It is, simply, my story.
Here’s the deal. I have no regrets for the life I was given, the life into which I was born. I have no regrets because I don’t believe that my life happened for me, that it was truly MY life. I believe my life happened for others. I believe the stories I lived, the chapters I experienced, the characters I met existed so that I might use those experiences to throw some sort of good back out at the world, so that I might make a difference in the life of another. Whether through writing, speaking, or educating in some way I feel it my mission to move others to make a difference in the life of a child, in the life of anyone for that matter, experiencing hardship, hunger, poverty, homelessness, or suffering of any sort. I feel it my mission to show others that we are a team as humans living together on this planet, that we are not you and me, but us. I feel it my mission to spread the word of love and compassion and kindness and interconnectedness and peace. Arrogant of me to think this? Too grand a mission? Possibly, but it’s mine. It’s the one I was given. It came to me. And I’ve accepted the assignment. Will I change the world? No. Will I make a difference in one life? Yes. Will I inspire one person to make a difference in one life? Yes. The way I look at it is this. The more I can make a difference in one life, the more I can move one person to do the same, the more lives are changed for the good, the more that cycle of suffering is broken, the more we come together as the family we are.
But can I change the world from my window table at the local bookstore? Maybe.
I sat, the other day, with a good friend discussing dreams and ambitions. In typical Tammie fashion, I encouraged her in an area where I saw potential. You should know that I don’t believe the adage that anyone can achieve anything, that, as Walt Disney suggested, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” It’s a nice thought, but not totally true. The ability needs to be present. Sure, the desire to achieve is important, but the talents, gifts, skills are equally critical to success. If I see potential and ability, however, I will do my darned best to see that the individual in front of me understands what exactly it is that I see and understands the responsibility she has to use those gifts to benefit the greater good. I saw this sort of potential in my friend and encouraged her to pursue it. I am not a fan of the phrase hemming and hawing, but this is exactly what she did. “Are you afraid of failure,” I asked. “No, not at all,” she assured me. “I am afraid of success.” I was like the puppy dog with the cocked head, eyes lost in confusion. I just couldn’t process. Isn’t success the goal? Don’t we aim to be great at what we do? Aren’t we all shooting for some actualization of the dream that lives now only in our heads? Afraid of success? I felt like the seventh grader in geometry class, raising her hand to ask a question and when finally called on saying simply, “I don’t get it.”
Well, my friends. I get it now.
It is important to understand that I have no problem with trying and not succeeding. I am not afraid of failure. I know failure. I’ve done that. Failure and I are best buds. I could rebuild a forest with the paper from all the rejection slips I’ve collected. Wrong topic, wrong approach, wrong market, wrong writing. Right topic, right approach, right market, right writing, wrong time. It’s not true what they say, you know. The writers of those form rejection slips always apologize for the lack of interest, but assure the reader that the desire to pass is no reflection on her or her writing, but that the idea simply does not meet the needs at the moment. Well, OF COURSE the rejection is a reflection on the writer and her writing. The negative response basically says, “You suck, and we think you should go directly to jail, do not pass GO and do not collect $200 because you are such a poser to think you even RESEMBLE anything CLOSE to a writer.” At least, that’s how I read them. No, I am not afraid of failure. If a person is living and breathing and stepping out in life at all, failure happens. The thing is, I have experienced so much failure in my writing career that I think now I may be awfully close to success. And that, frankly, scares the hell out of me.
I sat yesterday with an editor friend over coffee, or rather over a venti green tea soy latte. It was her third or fourth read of my manuscript. I thought we would discuss commas and word choice and essay placement. She caught me off guard when she mentioned Oprah. Suddenly, I felt the need to hurl. “But this isn’t Oprah material,” I told her. “This is just my life. This is just my growing up years. This is no big deal. Really. It isn’t as bad as I make it look. I write. I embellish.” Like my dream denying friend I spoke of earlier, I found myself in classic hemming and hawing mode.
I am reminded of the words of Marianne Williamsom as she suggests that “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
It is important that we succeed. It is important that we help others succeed. It is important that we not be afraid of that success. It is important because, as I see it, success is not for me or for you. Success, ultimately, is for us and the family that we are.