My fingers itch. There’s a whisper running through my body, just beneath the skin. If I didn’t know any better, I might almost think I had something to write. It’s time to swallow that urge down again. Good thing I caught it early. Otherwise, I may have actually taken a chance, may have stepped into a world outside my own head. I may have risked failure. I may have risked being wrong.
I wrote in high school. I remember late nights, in bed with a college rule notebook, streaming my consciousness into mediocre poetry. The words were ever only for me. I did share them and even relished the feedback I received. But in those dark hours beneath the lamp light, I lost myself in the empty space between the blue lines. How someone else might react didn’t cross my mind any more than the time that slipped by. More importantly, I had no personal expectations for that work, no unrealistic benchmark for inherent quality or value I was trying to reach. The words just grew out of me, and that was enough.
During college, something changed. I’d always been “the smart one” in my circle of friends. That label, in large measure, had come to define me. I’m not sure I understood this at the time, but much of the hard work I did in college revolved around maintaining that reputation. I adopted other people’s expectations—no, worse than that, my perception of other people’s expectations—as my identity. If I wasn’t the smart one, who was I? This motivation instilled in me a dangerous subconscious logic that has shaped my life ever since:
- In order to be perceived as “smart,” I must always succeed/be right.
- If I must always succeed/be right, it follows that I must never fail/be wrong.
- Therefore, I must avoid even attempting anything at which I might fail, which might reveal to someone (most importantly myself) that I’m not actually so smart after all.
- In order to stay “the smart one,” I must appear smarter that everyone else.
- If I try my best and fail, I (and others) will know I’m not so smart.
- Therefore, I must never try my best. I need only try hard enough to appear smarter than everyone else.
I spent my time at school on the whole more concerned with playing a role than with establishing open, meaningful relationships. As a result, I graduated from the tiny college I attended at the top of my class with no idea who I really was or what I wanted out of my life—and deathly afraid to ever write another creative word.
The years since have been a long, slow lesson in reality and humility. There are certainly other contributing factors (stories for another time), but my seeming inability to make life choices in the face of unknown outcomes has had a crippling effect on me. I have watched as friends and family have grown and moved on with their lives while I wait, stagnant and unsure. I hope every day for some sort of revelation or clarity, for someone to offer me the answers, the keys to (my) life, so that I don’t have to take a chance. Because if I try, if I give life my best, I just might fail.
So why am I writing now? Because if I don’t, there’s a good chance I never will. And why in a blog? Maybe I’m finally getting tired of carrying this fear of being wrong. I’m not the smart one anymore, and I’m not sure I ever really was. I’m just me, and there’s no escape from that no matter how long I try to put it off.