“You don’t believe in yourself. We get it.”
That’s what I’m waiting for everyone to say to me. Who’s everyone? People, man. Just people.
I cut myself down first, then wait for others to follow suit. It’s a skill I honed in high school. The idea is if I disassemble myself in front of everyone, no one else has to do it. And if they try, I’ve already affirmed them in their mission – so it’s all good. Like water off a duck’s back. You see that? You can’t hurt me. I hurt myself first. We’re all friends here.
But if you stuck a gun to my head and asked me, “Susan, do you think you’re going to make it? Do you believe in yourself or not?” I’d scream “yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Then I’d ask why you’re carrying a gun. Then I’d remember I’m in Texas.
I have a dream. A silly little dream of becoming a successful writer for film and television (and personal blogs).
I use a veil of self-doubt to cover up what I believe others will see as foolish. I lack the courage to “dare greatly” sometimes, but I’m getting better at not giving a damn what other people think. The veil insulates me from ridicule:
“Are you serious? You want to be a screenwriter? Have you ever read your dialogue?”
“Hardly anyone ever really makes it. What’s your Plan B?”
“But, you’re not a good writer.”
“You suck, Susan. You suck at everything you do.”
“To think even for one second that you could make it in the world of writing – in any capacity at all – is not only a ludicrous proposition, but a dangerous one for both yourself and the reading population of this world. You and your silly, stupid, moronic dream should go step in front of a slow moving train. Good day to you.”
Now, no one has actually ever said these things to me. If they did, I’m sure I’d crawl into a small hole somewhere to sit in my hopelessness, I’d grow angry, then I’d pull myself back out with a fierce commitment to become successful AT THEM. But the fear is that I’ll exclaim my dream to anyone within earshot – which is what I want to do – then someone will read my writing and laugh at me.
This futile tango – swaying from being courageous about my aspirations to lightly mocking myself – has gotten better over the years. Like I said, my give-a-damn dwindles with each day I grow older. Maybe that’s desperation setting in, but it seems letting go of the need for approval is a much smoother way to live and operate in the world.
And I think this is relevant because everyone lives with the small voice that says in some form or fashion: “You can’t.”
And that, friends, is a story created in our heads. The authors of my “Can’t Story” are those bastards in high school, odds, the need for approval, fear, and me. It’s an exhausting, unforgiving piece of fiction that pops up every now and then.
I can because I have brains in my head and feet in my shoes, and I can steer myself in any direction I choose. I’m on my own and I know what I know, and I’m the one who’ll decide where to go. Dr. Seuss told me this, so I know it’s true.
Way back when, in some scuzzy flat in Edinburgh, J.K. Rowling was a single mom on welfare when she completed the first book in the Harry Potter series. It was rejected by 8 publishers.
At one point, Walt Disney was so broke that he had to eat dog food. His first successful cartoon character was ripped off by Universal, and MGM told him nobody would like Mickey Mouse.
Babe Ruth once held the record for the number of strikeouts.
Van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime, but completed over 800. And he whacked his ear off, but I think that was because he was crazy.
Winston Churchill lost in every election until he was elected Prime Minister, then helped lead Great Britain through the bloodiest war the world had ever seen.
Before Sidney Poitier won an Oscar and 3 Golden Globes (nearly ten nominations for both awards – not including the wins), a casting director at his first audition suggested, “Why don’t you stop wasting people’s time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?”
The only reason I’m mentioning these people now is because they didn’t let a little (or a lot of) doubt eat them and their dream alive. The world can be a cold, scary, cruel place – not conducive to nurturing warm fantasies of how you might live and contribute happiness to the world. And many go out into this storm, meet the wild wind of uncertainty, and let it blow them far away from the place their heart intended.
“Everybody needs something to hang their hat on.” That’s what my friend said during a conversation we were having about careers in filmmaking. He chose to hang his hat on directing. He owns his ability, his passion, his goal, his dream. His conviction is so cemented that if you told him pursuing a career in filmmaking is waste of time, he’d flip you the bird and laugh all the way to his next shoot. The dude is as bold as they come.
I need something to hang my hat on. I need an unwavering, zealous belief in my dream. I also need to say – and this is just for me – that I don’t (want to) care what anyone thinks. I’ve chosen writing. And since I’m dramatic, I’m laying claim to this on the internet. Cue the lights, hit the music, and hear me when I say:
I want to be a writer. I don’t care about grammar. I’m going to make it.
One of my favorite things to do is talk to people about what their dream is. If I’m talking to a kid, I try to forewarn them of the dangers of conformity. “Don’t do what your parents want you to do. You want to start a garage band? Do it.” And I always leave these conversations feeling glad. There’s some kind of relief in encouraging people to join me in the chase for something that at times seems out of reach.
I wish I had more Zig Ziglar-inspired things to say about how to be successful and overcome these bumps that threaten to take dreams out. Spoiler alert: I don’t. I just have my own personal experience with wanting something so bad, and wrestling with my Can’t Monster. It’s Tom Foolery to think I can’t or won’t make it.
Woody Allen said, “The only thing standing between me and greatness is me.” Say what you will about the man, at least he’s honest. And I think that’s what this whole thing was about. Fear and doubt are little gremlins who have as much authority as I allow them. It’s depressing to think about how full the graveyard is with people who gave up. How different the world might be if we didn’t set up our own impenetrable ceilings.
So for you, kind reader, whatever that dream is that keeps you putting one foot in front of the other, whatever that thing is that makes your soul happy, that thing you know will make a pleasant addition to Life as we know it – make it happen, Captain. Weave it into existence – thread after thread, day after day, no matter how many times you prick your finger on the needle. The story is that you can’t. The reality is that you can.
Oh, the places I’ll go!…if I get out of my own way. From one zealous human being to another, here’s to hoping your dream never dies. The Can’t Monster that feeds on fear and doubt is committed to seeing it dead, and it’s your job to keep it alive. Fight for it.
Sic ‘em! Break a leg! Can’t stop, won’t stop!
Oh, one last thing. If your dream is to be the best serial killer on the planet, ignore everything you just read.