Upright and Breathing

Yes, I’m alive. Thanks, Andy, for checking in.
No, I’ve not written on the blog for nine months.

Andy

 

This is not to say I’ve not written. I’ve written and rewritten six complete chapters of the Onlyness manuscript. I blogged I was going offline to create momentum and focus. It worked. Mostly. Then, I read the 20 or so stories all together in December. I don’t know when exactly it occurred to me that they collectively sucked, but I do remember the sensation. Maybe you’ve had one like it yourself when you face a tough realization? Yeah, that acidic-bile-in-the-mouth sensation.

It wasn’t easy to admit any of this. Privately, then. Publically, now.

But it was needed. I asked my publisher for an extension. I then cleared my calendar of anything that could be moved. Then, I sat in a yellow chair at my kitchen table, and wrote or rewrote every word starting again. With a blank piece of paper. Some 73,279 new words were created, making my total in the last nine months somewhere close to 189,000 words written. Of course, nothing is yet “done”. There are still several stories and chapters to go. And, I need to still trim to get to the best 85,000 words net. (My editor still has his work to do, too.)

At times, in this process, I wasn’t so “upright” as your note asked, but curled into a fetal position. Other times, I had my head rested on one hand as I learned onto the kitchen table to review, scratch out, and pencil in better ideas. Other times, I was huddled onto a chaise with a blanket on my lap bent over my Apple laptop so often that I now worry that my shoulders are becoming permanently bent over.

None of these visuals made it to my Instagram. But perhaps they should have. Because I was learning an important lesson during this time. Can you guess what it was, Andy? I bet you can.

It’s this:

It’s in the doing you become ready.

When I first chewing on this idea, I was at a long-weekend writer’s workshop run by the OpEd Project. There, Katie Orenstein, Founder and CEO of The OpEd Project, told me I was “wholly unqualified” to write this idea. I lacked the credentials, experience, and background she said …oh so unmercifully. My entire career (now over 100 products, 18B in revenues shipped) was shaped by moments of raising my hand and doing the one thing that no one else believed was possible. So, perhaps too predictably, I didn’t heed her advice.

What did I do, instead? I simply celebrated the book deal, and told myself I had the right team around me to offset whatever I didn’t have. This, Andy, is what denial looks like.

While none of us should listen to the voice that says we can’t do the thing we imagine because we’ve never done it before; that’s a strategy for staying stuck, not making a dent… Handing myself a book about making a dent is a pretty arrogant thing to do, I now realize.

So, I have come to realize that Katie was right. I was wholly unqualified to write this. But more to the point, I was when I started. I’ve never done story writing before, let alone an entire book of stories. I suck (suck, suck, SUCK) at the most basic aspects of writing like segues where the author creates the context for what they’re about to share, or signal when they’re about to take a left hand turn in a story. Without those segues and tee-ups, readers wonder where you are going; they got lost; they wonder if you have a point or are just wandering around. Two books on collaborative management are not nearly close to the caliber of writing for a big book where you want to touch a broader audience without losing that specific perspective that makes you the right person to write an idea.

It’s only the ability to forgive oneself for falling short of what one wanted and thought was inside that let’s one get back to work. At least, that’s the truth for me. The deflated me lives close to the ground, all my hot-air-confidence gone, hovering just 1 inch above the dust and the dirt that is ever-present on the floor. When I focus on my high expectations, I am disappointed in myself. But, when I stay empty of hot-air, I am humbled by the work itself. It is in the empty space that one does what is needed: the work. I’m reminded at this time of year – Easter – of an empty tomb that offered a glimpse to a new beginning. Empty isn’t bad. Empty is full of space for the newness to come in. It’s okay to have high expectations, but it’s better to be a-work-in-progress.

If I was into breathing exercises, I would breathe out high expectations and breathe in forgiveness.

Nearly every day starts with the question of “Do I have this in me?”, and the answer waivers the full spectrum of “ab-so-tute-ly” to “what the fuck ever made me think I could”. My husband has in recent months taken on a new job: to remind me to get a good night’s sleep and just give it a rest until I am ready again. I remind myself to take a deep calming breath instead of the short shallow ones I resort to in times of anxiety.

But (and this is a big BUT), there are moments of clarity that result in specific phrases and sometimes entire pages where the clarity of the stories and ideas of onlyness are so revealing … so remarkably illustrative that I am kiss-the-ground joyful. That didn’t happen right away. It happens when one pushes thru the mud of it all to find the sprout of newness and then kept excavating around it, until it could grow. It happens when you seek the truth of the story, relentlessly. And, so I will keep going. And, by the doing, I will become qualified. And, one day… there it will be. Flawed, surely. And not what I had hoped for. But what it is meant to be.

And then I’m sure Katie will be gracious and send some kind of congratulations note, “I always knew you had it in you” message that I will smile at. And, then, mount in some black and gold stylish picture frame from Restoration Hardware, to put right next to my computer screen.

I’ll be sure to Instagram it.

So thanks for checking on me Andy. Your note reminded me to stand upright and keep breathing. I’m grateful.

4 Responses:

  1. Katie Scott. April 5, 2016 at 8:47 am  |  

    I follow you because I chatted with you at WorkHuman in 2015 (you were on stage, asking us to interact with each other, I suggested you continue to follow Globoforce – they were going places!). Having said that, I can only now say WOW to this entry. You are indeed a powerful writer with a great ability to share of yourself. I will continue to follow you and your quest of Onlyness… I am one person, but certain of your success…

    Reply
    • Nilofer Merchant. April 7, 2016 at 10:30 am  |  

      That’s awfully kind of you Katie. Your support means a lot.

      Reply
  2. Monica Davis. May 12, 2016 at 9:28 am  |  

    I have no doubt that you have it in you to get to where you need to go (maybe a different place than where you want to go) – keep at it and be kind to yourself!

    Reply

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