Discover more from Human Stuff from Lisa Olivera
To orient toward doing
The forever practice of Going For It
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A song I’m loving:
I’ve had a large social media following for over five years now — hundreds of thousands of followers — and I’ve never made six figures in a year, or facilitated a live offering of any kind (outside of therapy sessions), or hosted anything on Zoom, or held a live workshop or class. And I’ve never gone through with the dozens of workshops & offerings I’ve spent hours and hours creating slides and outlines for, always too afraid to move forward and actually sell it, despite the countless requests to do so. All I’ve offered my large audience over the last 5.5 years is my $26 book, my $59 course, and my optional $6/mo newsletter.
There are many reasons for all of this — some I’m still coming to terms with and dropping shame around. There is stuff around money and earning, valuing my work and naming it as worth paying for — around messages from people telling me I don’t need to “become a sell-out like everyone else” — around not wanting to let people down or embarrass myself — around fear of messing up, not meeting expectations, failing — around not wanting to do things a million people are already doing (as if that isn’t the only option with anything we do) — around perfectionism as the standard I’ll never meet. But mostly, there is fear of the unknown: of not knowing how it will go, and not knowing how anyone will respond, and it (and me) therefore being safer not trying at all. Staying behind the screen. Staying behind the scenes. Just writing.
The thing is… the perceived safety of not trying isn’t actually real. It’s just a barrier we assume is protecting us when actually, it’s withholding us: from doing the things we want to do, from going for it, from taking risks, from trying. And it can be exhausting to let a not-even-real fear keep us from trying. At some point, the stalled energy from keeping our ideas stuck within us becomes too heavy of a load to continue holding — and from that place, we can either quit or do the thing. And I’m working on doing the thing instead of retreating into the comfort of quitting when I don’t really want to quit.
And my goodness… the idea that we can convince people to like us, or to like what we do, or to not leave, or to accept us, by forgoing actually putting the work we want to put into the world out of fear it will cause people to not like us or what we do, or leave, or not accept us… it sounds downright silly when I write it out, doesn’t it? Yet how many of us edit and mold the way we show up, or forgo showing up at all, in order to remain likable or admirable or acceptable to the invisible audience in our heads? Because wow, remaining invisible ourselves sure does feel safer sometimes.
For those of us who create out loud — who share our work with the public in various ways — the death grip of internal judgment, fear, and self-criticism around doing so, which is most often about us, rather than anyone else, can be a tornado to move through at times… no matter how “evolved” we are, no matter how much self-awareness we have. Choosing to make work and share it with the world, whether a book or a poem or a song or a painting or a work presentation or a parenting conference or a new recipe or (I could go on), presents us with a wide open opportunity to confront our own inner narratives, our own self-created limitations to what’s possible. And this confrontation has been an ongoing process for me over the last many years, and especially lately as I’ve been coming up against new edges, sharing in new ways, shedding old ones, and actually trying the things I’ve long kept on the backlog of things I’ll eventually do when I “feel ready.”
The tricky part is that for me, “ready” has almost always been “when I know everyone will like it”… “when I know it won’t make anyone judge or criticize me”… “when I know I won’t let anyone down”… “when I know there’s zero chance anyone will see it, or me, in a negative light whatsoever.” In other words, “ready” doesn’t exist.
The truth is, there might not be such a thing as being “ready”. There’s only deciding. There’s only doing it, whether or not readiness feels present. There’s only making the choice and being willing to sit with the outcomes of doing so. There’s only a commitment to what matters to us more than a commitment to comfort. There’s only trying — taking action — going for it — claiming the next best move and making it, without knowing how it will go, or what others will think, or what will unfold… because we never have any say in those things anyway, whether we do the thing or not.
So maybe Doing The Thing… whatever it is… is less about trying to manage other people’s feelings or opinions about it, and is more about learning we can trust ourselves to hold the discomfort of not having control over any of that. Maybe learning to withstand judgment so we can stay committed to the work we’re called to create is more meaningful than what we avoid by not doing it. Maybe remembering avoidance is rarely actually about safety at all, but is more about us not trusting ourselves to tolerate how others may react, can remind us of what we lose by not trying and what we gain by going for it, even if we fail. Maybe the difficulty of doing the things we desire to do is because what we desire matters, and the difficulty of doing it doesn’t need to be a sign we shouldn’t. And maybe returning to why the work we do matters in the first place, and tethering ourselves to what moves us to create, is the anchor we must remain close to as we wade through the murky waters of sharing it with the world.
In his stunning book My Trade Is Mystery — Seven Meditations from a Life in Writing, Carl Phillips says this:
“I often remind my students of what making a career in writing maybe most requires, beside luck, some talent, and stamina: a constant calibrating and recalibrating of arrogance and humility. You need the arrogance to believe not only that you have something to say but that the world must hear it; and you need the humility to recognize both that not everyone wants to listen and that no one is in fact obligated to do so. This too seems part of the work of ambition.
A steady drive, without expectation. An acceptance that to be an artist is to commit to a lifelong apprenticeship to master over what cannot truly be mastered, since the definition of art — as with the evaluation of excellence— is ever shifting and always subjective. Accepting the fact of this— indeed, even embracing it— will return you to that most important form of ambition for the work. When it comes to the art itself, a prize is already irrelevant because it’s (usually) for a work that’s finished; the committed artist will already have continued that fumbling forward into the unknown that is finally required for the work to keep deepening, to continue surprising. This ambition will keep your mind on the work, what matters most as much as possible, let the work be everything; for the work will save you.”
Since readiness, 100% confidence, and certainty are rarely promised in a life of creating, I wonder, then, how we can keep returning to our own sense of aligned ambition, our own Why, our own seedlings of desire asking us to tend to them so they can grow outside of us. I wonder how embracing the practice of showing up to the things we’re called to create, to make, to do, can be its own kind of reward — its own kind of motivation. And I wonder how approaching our risks, our decisions to move forward in what we want to share, and our choices to show up to the work we want to make in this way might create more spaciousness, more room for humanity, more of an openness toward the unknown outcome of it all.
The slow and steady practice of reorienting toward Doing after spending so much time avoiding or hiding has felt tender and important. And it reminds me of how many of us are practicing this in our own ways: in our relationships and our art, in the way we show up in hard conversations and the choices we make, in the moment to moment experiences we face daily. And it reminds me how much we give ourselves, and others, when we stop waiting for readiness or certainty, for clarity on the outcome or 100% assurance we won’t be rejected… and lean more deeply into showing up for the things we’re here to do, to make, to be. Because what else is there, really, other than a continual returning to the willingness to do just that… regardless of how it goes or where it leads?
So, here’s my chance to re-orient toward sharing my work and facilitating change in some of the narratives I’ve long held about what it means to do the things I want to do, around receiving, around valuing what I have to share — and letting others see me in the trying, whether or not I succeed or fail or both. I’m nervous and excited to tell you about my new writing workshop, TO WRITE, TO BE. My first live offering ever.
How might writing become a tool in seeing ourselves more clearly? How can we utilize writing as a method of inquiry and understanding? How does cultivating a writing practice create more space for possibility in our lives? And how can we get out of our own way so we can use writing to stay tethered to ourselves, to solid ground, to what matters most?
TO WRITE, TO BE is a three-week experiential workshop series meant to support you in creating a more intentional writing practice, using writing as a method of self-inquiry, integrating writing into your daily life, tapping into the writer within, and writing as a way of cultivating more presence, aliveness, and self-compassion.
Phew… my nervous system already feels a bit settled just choosing to do the thing and share it. It’s wild how something as simple as telling you about something I have to offer feels so edgy, so hard. And it is yet another reminder that sometimes, our anticipation around how things will go is much harder than the act of actually doing the thing — no matter what it is. And sometimes, we have to just go for it. May we do the thing and then learn to be with what unfolds as a result. Thanks for being here, as always.
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