Tag Archives: failure

Fear Isn’t a Reason to Quit

In “Why Do We Teach Girls That It’s Cute to Be Scared,” Caroline Paul writes about being one of the first women in the San Francisco Fire Department.

“I expected people to question whether I had the physical ability to do the job (even though I was a 5-foot-10, 150-pound ex-college athlete). What I didn’t expect was the question I heard more than any other: ‘Aren’t you scared?’”

Read the rest of Paul’s piece in The New York Times here.

As Paul points out, women are raised to be afraid, of well, many things. Things that are gross, things that could hurt us, things that are physically intimidating, etc. Some fear is healthy, of course. Fear keeps us from acting completely irrationally or taking unnecessary risks.

But what about risks that are scary because we could possibly fail? Possibly be humiliated? I mean, let’s be real. What the hell is scarier than failure? Paul writes,

“When a girl learns that the chance of skinning her knee is an acceptable reason not to attempt the fire pole, she learns to avoid activities outside her comfort zone.”

Here lies the problem. As Paul states,

“We think our daughters are more fragile, both physically and emotionally, than our sons.”

When we treat young girls as more fragile, they come to think of themselves that way. They are less likely to take risks because they might bruise their knees or their egos. Paul writes,

“When girls become women, this fear manifests as deference and timid decision making.”

I fear failure, probably a little too much. It has made me timid in my decision making, opting to stay the course, and wait for better things to come along.

It’s not like parents raised me to be this timid girl. My mother raised me to a feminist. To have opinions. To try new things. I mean, my parents let me travel to another continent (without them) when I was in junior high.

Did they treat me different than my brothers? Yes. Some different treatment is necessary. Girls have to learn how to navigate the world we live in, after all. And that’s the point really.

Girls need to learn to look fear in the eye and try it anyway, knowing they might tumble, bloody their knees, and fail. Failure builds character. It makes us stronger. It makes us brave. Paul writes,

“When I worked as a firefighter, I was often scared. Of course I was. So were the men. But fear wasn’t a reason to quit. I put my fear where it belonged, behind my feelings of focus, confidence and courage. Then I headed, with my crew, into the burning building.”

I was talking to a friend of mine about this piece. My friend has two daughters. Her take was she doesn’t want to raise her girls to be fearless, she wants to raise them to be smart and brave.

Sounds good to me. We could use more smart and BRAVE women out there in the world.

So this week, I thought I would try something different. I created a Spotify Playlist. It is my Fearless Mix. You may recognize a lot of these songs from earlier posts. 🙂

 

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How to Become a Writer in Just 33 Years!

“First, try something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary. A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably.” -Lorrie Moore in “How To Become A Writer”

The first time I read these words I was working on my English and journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

Yes. That writing school. No. I wasn’t in the Writer’s Workshop.

And yes. I do think Hannah Horvath was insane for dropping out of the program. As another friend who is getting his MFA said, “You don’t just get into program and drop out. You just don’t.”

And yet, I’ve had many Hannah moments. If you write for a living or you want to write for a living, you’ve had these moments too. Self-doubt is perhaps one of the most inescapable parts of being a writer, or really being any type of artist.

Reading Moore’s work blew my mind. I imagined her poring over a story for hours, tucking and then re-tucking her hair behind her ears as she perfected her sentence structure. It all seemed so romantic.

But me, I was trying to be practical. I knew you can’t just graduate with an English degree, start writing a book, and then become the next J.K. Rowling.

I double-majored in English and journalism, and I worked for the school newspaper, The Daily Iowan. As it turns out, I don’t like working for a newspaper. So much for practicality.

So I did what Moore and many other writers before me did. I worked other jobs. I worked as a visual manager. Then I moved to NYC and started working as visual merchandiser and eventually a visual stylist. I created beautiful displays at an overpriced department store in Midtown.

All the while, I tried to get my foot in the door at a publishing house. And I continued to write. Mostly poetry at the time. I had plenty of angst about dating in NYC and being a twenty-something, much like Hannah Horvath. Minus of course, the money and good connections Hannah has.

I never got that publishing job.

By 2008, I was sick of the city. I fled back to the Midwest and moved to Minneapolis. I looked for writing jobs as the recession worsened. I started temping at an appraisal management company in the accounting department.

I was still writing, but not as much. I wasn’t reading as much either. I was distracted. There were too many things to do. There were too many people to please.

Then in 2012, I got divorced. My old life was suddenly gone. I was crushed.

A friend recommended I read Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds. I did. I also read When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams.

“And it is here, I must have fallen in love with water, recognizing its power and sublimity, where I learned to trust that what I love can kill me, knock me down, and threaten to drown me with its unexpected wave. If so, then it was here where I came to know I can survive what hurts. I believed in my capacity to stand back up and run into the waves again and again, no matter the risk.” –Terry Tempest Williams

These words were a salve to my broken heart. I wasn’t alone. Other writers suffered through heartbreak like this. From their suffering, they created stunningly, beautiful poetry and prose.

I began to write more. I took a flash fiction class at The Loft Literary Center. It was my introduction to flash fiction, a genre that limits stories to under a thousand words. Basically, a very short story. I loved the challenges and opportunities of the genre.

Flash fiction became my medium. I was writing more and ready to start looking for a new job. I found an online degree program through the University of Iowa. It wasn’t an MFA, but a Master of Arts in Strategic Communication. The degree was basically business writing that focuses on emerging channels and mediums, like social media.

I took the GRE and was accepted into the program. I started submitting stories. I started getting rejections.

I took a poetry class at The Loft Literary Center. I wrote more stories. I wrote more poems. I continued to get rejections. I met new writer friends online and IRL. We exchanged writing. They gave me their notes, and I gave them mine.

“Early, critical disillusionment is necessary so that a fifteen you can write long haiku sequences about thwarted desire…Show it to your mom. She is tough and practical. She has a son in Vietnam and a husband who may be having an affair. She believes in wearing brown because it hides spots. She’ll look briefly at your writing, then back up at you with a face as blank as a donut: ‘How about emptying the dishwasher?’ Look away…This is required pain and suffering. This is only for starters.” -“How To Become A Writer”

My friend Rob has published a few of his stories. My friend Jeni is writing her second novel. I just read her first chapter. It’s good.

There is no easy or direct path to becoming a writer. I know many other writers try to be something, anything else. I certainly did.

There is also no magic potion to take, which poof, makes you a writer. I wish there was. There is only the doing.

I read often, which is necessary. Reading inspires you and helps you figure out what kind of a writer you want to be.

From there, you just need to sit down and do it. You need to write. Then write more. And then keep writing.

It’s ok if it takes you 33 or 45 or 70 years to get there. As long as you put in the work, the required pain and suffering.

This week’s video is “Avant Gardener” by Courtney Barnett. She’s a great writer, and some lines in this song really resonate with me.

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