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A song I’m loving:
Sometimes, I feel small. Like I’m too bland or boring, like my life isn’t adventurous or thrilling enough to share anything at all. I wonder if I need to make some drastic change to have more interesting material to write about, or if I need to put myself through the wringer (is it wringer or ringer?) and come out the other side with a magnificent story to tell you. I wonder if I need to cultivate wackier hobbies or make wilder experiences part of my life so I can squeeze them into what I write — so my writing drips with more wildness. I don’t look especially unique like I used to — don’t have an indie-girl haircut like I used to, don’t quite fit the image of being an artist or a fascinating person, don’t put nearly as much thought or effort into having a set-apart style as I did in my early 20’s, in clothing or in writing, when being “different” was once everything to my identity.
Feeling boring and bland has made it safer to be a “self help” writer* than a Writer writer — it’s made it safer to lean on the universal wisdom gleaned from experience than to just write about the experience itself, without extracting wisdom to share from it. Because if my writing isn’t useful or valuable in a tangible way, it has to be extraordinary in some other way, doesn’t it? It has to wow you in a different form, which long felt like too much pressure. So sticking to writing from the therapist/human parts instead of the just human part has felt more cautious, more of what people want, more pleasing, more acceptable.
But then, I look inside. I look at the kaleidoscope of experiences I’ve moved through yet have never shared, things you would never guess I’ve experienced, the things you don’t know about that inform everything I do. I look at my capacity to imagine, to dream, to notice the tiniest of things, the simplest of thoughts, and find them extraordinary. I look at my capacity to weave together strings of words that light up something familiar in someone else. I look at the memories and moments, the things I remember and all I have forgotten, the parts of my own nature that I find reflected in the world and are worth sharing, no matter how small, how mundane, how boring to some. I look at my desire to write and remember that’s enough — that making it any certain way for anyone who isn’t really interested was never the point, even when I long thought it needed to be that way.
When I write, I feel invigorated — even when I’m writing about feeling like I should have more exciting things to write about. When I write, I notice. I pay attention. I investigate. I mine, dig, excavate. I search, question, explore. I name, honor, hold space for. I reckon with, learn from, own what’s true. I tell the truth. And that — that is what I want. To tell the truth in the most meaningful, stirring way I can — even if it is only those things to me.
The new writing project I am working on — a new book, to be specific — is much more personal than anything I’ve ever shared publicly. The writing is different than the way I’m used to writing for other people — FOR OTHER PEOPLE being the key words there. It’s more for me — with the hope and trust that it will also be for those who resonate with my own stories, my own experiences not as a therapist or professional or “wise person”, but as a human who is floating on this rock in space right alongside everyone else, wondering where I am and how I got here and where I’ll be a year from now, wondering how to do anything at all.
I’ve long leaned on my place as a person who shares “wisdom” or nourishment or guidance, always leading to some nugget of universal truth at the end — as a person who shares with a slight wall up, showing up human but not entirely human, if you know what I mean. I simply wasn’t allowed to do that for so long because of my role as a therapist — I still feel stifled by it in some ways. Most people still refer to me as a therapist before they call me a writer. Yet this new book project is supporting me in slowly practicing writing what I want to write, with no main goal of being anything for anyone, knowing it will be that as a natural result of being myself instead of trying to be something else. It’s helping me integrate a new truth: that my writing is valuable outside of what it does for anyone else — it’s valuable for what it does for me.
Writing this newsletter over the last almost-year (a year next month… wow) has been a practice of slowly shedding the parts of me who feel like I don’t belong in my writing — the parts of me who believe I must always lead with helpfulness and nurturance of others, leaving my whole self out of it. It has given me space to practice sharing more of me in ways that are titrated, not rushed, not all or nothing but bits at a time, experimenting with what it feels like to be on the page a little more. It has allowed me to experiment with taking off my therapist hat more regularly and showing up with no hat at all, bare, just a human, even when most of me still eagerly looks for ways to infuse wisdom and meaning and some usefulness into what I share, as if that’s the only reason anyone is here. It’s given me permission to make this what I want to make it, which has not been natural or easy but has been healing in many ways.
The practice of writing what’s true in this next project of mine, and here, has reminded me of how okay it is to change. And when we change, some people will leave; some people won’t like it; some people will wish we did what we used to do because that’s what was most helpful to them. Some people will think it’s boring or bland. Yet others will say, “wow — lately your writing has resonated more than ever” or “you seem more you.” And perhaps, letting those voices matter as much as the bigger crowd does is important.
We get to do things differently than we’ve done before.
We get to do what feels most alive, most resonant, most true.
We get to let go of leading from identities that no longer fit as well.
We get to return to those identities anytime we want to.
We get to say what wants to be said and let it be enough.
We get to stop trying to be what everyone would like us to be.
We get to dance with the discomfort of letting our full selves out.
We get to embrace the path of listening to our own longings.
We get to become less popular for the sake of our truest art being expressed.
We get to center ourselves in what we do sometimes, too.
We get to pivot, shift, rewire, start over, try again, and again, and again.
Life makes it easy to feel like we’re stuck doing the same thing, even when what we’re wanting is to experiment a bit more. I am always reminding myself that more often than not, no one is holding those expectations over my head more than I am — and perhaps, the natural consequences that come from doing or sharing what we actually want to do or share in this season are worth the experience of letting ourselves do them.
And, because the universe works in mysterious ways sometimes, I quite literally just got an email from a reader sharing how much my newsletter has meant to them this last year — just as I was writing this paragraph. So I will take that as a nod from the great unknown to keep going, to keep trusting what wants to be said, to keep letting it be enough. I hope you do the same in whatever ways you’re needing to remember.
*also, I just want to name that “self-help writers” ARE writers. They (we) are not less than other writers; it’s just different. It’s a specific area of writing that becomes easy to stay niched in. And for those of us who want to break out of it a bit… may we do so, when we’re ready. <3
△ These words from the singularly brilliant Maya Angelou
△ This Black History Month, I’m Thinking About the Present
△ I’m savoring this book and this podcast
△ I loved this conversation and am really loving Rick’s book, The Creative Act
△ The Thrilling New Science of Awe
△ The New Obesity Guidelines for Kids Are Appalling
△ Ram Dass on the spiritual lessons of trees -- I think about these words a lot
△ The weekly threads onare worth the subscription alone
PS — I’ll be doing Flexible Office withon Tuesdays/Thursdays, working on my writing project and other things I say I want/need to do but are hard to get done... hope to see you there!
Human Stuff from Lisa Olivera is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Thank you so much for these beautiful words! I especially loved what you said about getting to do things differently than how we’ve done them before. It felt really good to be reminded of how okay it is to pivot, to choose a different path, try something new, become someone else. That is something I so often find myself circling back to, the permission to shift whenever doing so feels more aligned than staying the same. Sending you so much love🏻✨
"no one is holding those expectations over my head more than I am" for some reason this had me in tears , really felt it. Thank you for your newsletters, really appreciate it.All love from South Africa ❤️