I got a two-star review on Goodreads. It didn’t have any text attached to it. So I don’t know what exactly the person who read my book (I do hope that they actually read the book) didn’t like about it, or what they found wrong with it.
It felt strange. It didn’t really upset me, but still, it stung a little. So I decided to reflect on my thoughts and feelings about it. I mean, I know that it’s not about me personally. It’s about my book, and it’s about that person and their opinion, which they are totally entitled to have.
But still, at some point I found myself feeling a little bit deflated and discouraged. You know, we all have those days, we all have those ups and downs. One day you feel like you’re on top of the world, and the next day you feel like you’re a complete failure. Or the imposter syndrome kicks in and it’s nagging you, saying ”Well, what did you expect? Did you think you were a good writer? And that everybody was going to read and like your book?” I’m sure many of you recognize that nasty little voice that lives inside your head.
So I was thinking about it, and analyzing my feelings, and trying to see what I’m doing wrong and what lesson I can learn from it.
And here’s what I came up with:
First of all, the only person that needs to truly believe in you and your writing (or whatever it is that you’re passionate about) is yourself. It’s great if you have a supportive environment. It’s awesome if your friends and family are there for you and they believe in you, no matter what. Or if you have an amazing streat team on Instagram, and you know that people are rooting for you all the time.
But you have to be absolutely sure that if all that is taken away from you — for any reason whatsoever — there will always be one person left on your side. YOU.
If tomorrow you wake up, and the world suddenly hates you. And people are like, “We just don’t like you anymore, and we don’t believe in you anymore. And we don’t want to read your stories anymore, and we don’t want to talk to you anymore.” Even if that extremely unpleasant scenario happens to you – you still need to be there for yourself. You have to not let anyone or anything bring you down or stop you from believing in yourself.
Second, people are different. They all have their own agenda. They have their good days and bad days. They have their moods.
People have things, other people, and circumstances that influence their every thought, their every word, and every decision. They’re not in control of it most of the time (or they choose not to be, but that’s another topic altogether.)
Let’s admit it, more often than we want to, we find ourselves not in control of our own lives. So how would you control anyone else, right?
What I’m talking about here is that you cannot influence other people, you cannot influence their opinion, you cannot influence/change/predict the next thing that they’re going to say or do, whether it’s concerning you, or anyone else, or anything else.
You can’t do anything about it. So let it go.
I’m a control freak myself, and I know too well how hard it is, but seriously, just LET IT GO. You cannot do anything about it. When you accept it, things will become much easier.
We’re all seeking approval and validation, whether we admit it or not. We all like to be praised. And valued. And liked. Even loved.
There’s nothing wrong with it, really. It’s a very natural thing. Problems start when it becomes a need, a priority, something you can’t function without.
And most of us fall into that trap more often than we would like to.
Because when we start depending on validation and approval from others – we’re trapped. Eventually, it will make us lose our real goal and forget our main destination. It will seem like we’re moving ahead, while in reality we’re just running out of breath on an invisible treadmill.
I saw a review on Goodreads recently from a fellow author Nicole Adair. She reviewed her own book, “A Tangle of Dreams.” She wrote, “I’m writing this review because the opinion that matters most to me is my own. It hasn’t always been this way, but that’s the way I’d like it to be from now on.”
There is so much power and so much wisdom in this. I keep repeating to myself, “That’s the way I’d like it to be from now on.”
Try this approach. I most definitely will.
Become your own number one fan. Your own supporter. If others offer you their approval and support, accept it with gratitude, but don’t make it a necessary condition for your success.
After all, nobody knows you better than you do. Nobody understands you better than you do. Everything else and everyone else is beyond your control.
We all have our own definition of success. We have different goals, we have different dreams and choose our own paths to follow them.
For someone, being successful is getting a new job or building the career of their dreams. For others, it’s buying a house. Or becoming a bestselling author. Or even publishing just one book, sharing that one and only story with the world.
But there is a number of obstacles on the way to success that will be common for any field or sphere you’re striving to conquer.
Being an author, I’m mostly talking about things that can prevent writers from reaching the desired level of success on their writing and publishing journey, but I’m sure that you’ll find them applicable in your particular case too.
1. “If it ain’t perfect, it ain’t worth it.”
Your enemy #1 is Perfectionism. Suffering from this disease myself, I really know what I’m talking about.
Let’s imagine that somewhere, in a parallel universe, there is a cemetery of unborn projects. Different creative projects that could have become books, songs, movies, paintings, sculptures, or any other works of art. I’m ready to bet that they would all have one cause of death engraved on their tombstones: perfectionism of their creator.
All of them have been abandoned at some point because of a ton of little (and in most cases insignificant) faults found by the only person who could bring them to life.
Most of them weren’t given a chance.
It’s sad, really.
Now that we’ve honored their memory by a minute of silence, let’s talk about why it happens. And why you need to avoid it happening to you. To your ideas and projects, I mean.
To be honest, I have no idea where my perfectionism comes from. I don’t know if any psychoanalysis will help me figure out why I constantly need to prove something to the world. I didn’t have strict parents demanding excellent grades from me. I didn’t have anyone putting additional pressure on me. I like to do it myself.
And it’s a real pain, I must tell you.
There’s a good chance you already know it.
So, what do we do?
The most important thing we need to understand is that nobody is perfect. Sounds banal, I know. We’ve all heard it a billion times. Except we didn’t really let the concept sink in. Because there’s always this nasty tiny voice whispering to us, “No one is perfect … but you need to be!”
Next time you hear this voice, tell it to shut up and leave you alone.
Truth is, you don’t. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t owe it to anyone, even to yourself. What you do owe to yourself is to give it your all. Try to be the best (and no, ‘best’ does not equal ‘perfect’) version of yourself. Learn from your mistakes and be grateful for those mistakes – because all they mean is that you’re actually trying. That you’re actually doing something. Be happy when you make mistakes. Embrace them. They are indicators of your progress.
Even your own definition of ‘perfect’ will change over time (it probably already has – multiple times – you just need to look back at some of your earlier views, concepts, and ideas and you’ll see it).
So why bother? Why struggle, suffer and pressurize yourself trying to achieve something that later on you will again view as ‘imperfect’? Total waste of your time and energy.
How about setting a permitted error percentage? A tentative one. Say, you need to get things right in 80% instances, and in the other 20% you allow yourself to make mistakes? Lets you breathe a bit more freely, doesn’t it?
Stop aiming for 100%. You’ll most probably never get there. Chances are you’ll just turn around and go back, which would be a shame, because your success was waiting for you at the destination, and you never showed up. Because you were afraid of being imperfect.
Which brings us to the next point.
2. “This is way out of my comfort zone.”
The next enemy we’re going to face is Fear.
You probably remember one or two nightmares you had, where something was scaring or threatening you, but you couldn’t move or even make a sound?
Same in life – even though in a somewhat more subtle way. Fear immobilizes us.
You might not realize it, because it is usually masked under different other emotions or feelings. But more often than you think, you can’t achieve progress or even quit altogether because of fear.
It can be fear of failure. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of being misunderstood. Fear of being judged (or laughed at). Fear of change. Fear of success (yup, that’s a thing).
I would say all of them have something in common. They are all related to a certain change. Change of status, or change of emotional state, or change of circumstances and surroundings – and it’s always followed by the need of further actions. And that’s what makes us even more uncomfortable.
We’re all living in our comfort zones. Following certain patterns. And no matter how much we complain about our life – the fact is that we’re actually quite comfortable in it, because we’re used to everything that surrounds us and even to what we think and feel and how we react to things around us.
Changing the pattern and trying something new would mean leaving the warm and cozy place where we’ve been snuggling up comfortably for years and even decades. Leaving it for the cold and windy and hostile unexplored territory, where we’ll have to learn and do new things. And stumble. And fall. And feel like a joke sometimes.
Of course it’s scary.
But I think it’s way more scary to spend the rest of your life in that little box that you delude yourself into finding comfortable.
3. “How dare I even try?”
Does the voice of Impostor Syndrome sound familiar to you? Have you ever found yourself thinking, ”What am I doing? Who do I think I am? Why am I pretending that I can do it? I’m not like them. They will see what I truly am, and it will be a disaster.”
Well, something along these lines. You got the gist.
First, we create an image in our head – a perfect one – and then we start panicking that we don’t conform to that standard. Impostor syndrome is closely tied to perfectionism, and it leads us to finding faults in anything we do, being hard on ourselves while also being overly sensitive to criticism, not appreciating our own achievements and successes and giving ourselves credit, thinking instead that we just got ”lucky” to get to a certain level. And last but not least – constantly comparing ourselves to others (not in our favor, obviously.)
You know what, I’ll just leave a quote by Neil Gaiman here. Read it and you’ll see – it’s all you need to know about impostor syndrome.
“Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”
Beautifully said. Think about it. In the end, all that matters is doing the best job we can.
4. “I want it all and I want it now.”
Impatience. My old friend. Always by my side.
I always “can’t wait.” It’s probably one of my most overused words, especially in the posts on social media.
I realize it, and I’m working on it. And I’m actually getting somewhere – the upcoming release of my book is proof.
When I started writing it last year, in the beginning I was uploading my chapters to Wattpad weekly. Which, on one hand, did me a huge favor in terms of self-discipline, but on the other hand there was an issue of seeking validation and approval.
I was new there, I didn’t have many readers. And I couldn’t wait to share my story and see what everyone thinks.
I was looking for different ways to increase my visibility and came across the annual writing contest on Wattpad. They accepted only fully completed works. I was in the very beginning, only a few chapters through. But I got excited and decided to use it as an incentive. I needed to submit a work of 50000 words, and I had two-three months for it.
The pressure I put myself under almost made me stop writing. I had a little baby and very limited time to write (he’s a toddler now and I have even less time). And I was about to rush the whole process and to end my book at 50K words … for what? Taking part in a contest?
My impatience was kicking me from behind, saying, “Go, go, go! Hurry up! Write it quickly, and submit it!”
And I almost surrendered. And then I realized I can’t make it, which led me to put the whole thing on pause for a month or two.
That was a very risky thing to do. And now, when my novel is available for pre-order on Amazon, after I came back to it and finished the first draft in my own time, at my own pace (which was again pretty fast, but realistically this time) and then spent a few months on editing it (which brought it from 92K down to 83K words) and preparing for publishing, I look back and think about how my impatience almost ruined it.
Everything valuable takes time. Don’t rush. Enjoy the process.
5. “I tried; it didn’t work immediately; so why bother.”
The last thing I wanted to discuss here is Lack of Persistence.
I’d say it’s a combination of Perfectionism and Impatience.
It’s when you have unrealistic expectations, and if they’re not met (immediately, says Impatience), you give up instead of pushing through.
So, to make it easier for yourself, first of all, ditch the expectations. Just focus on the actions you need to take on the way to your goal. Not on the result. Not on the timeline. Focus on the process. Do your best. You’ll trip and fall. Everybody does. Just get up and continue walking.
Continue giving it your best, taking responsibility, and learning from your mistakes. It will inevitably bring results. Sooner or later, one way or another.
If you really want to achieve it, you’ll keep trying. It won’t just be like “I tried once, and it didn’t work”. It’ll be more like “I’ll keep trying until I succeed.”
And it’ll most definitely be difficult. You’ll encounter all kinds of obstacles on the way. You’ll feel like giving up. You’ll feel discouraged and deflated.
But as Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Makes sense, right?
He also said something else, and I think the following quote perfectly sums up everything I was talking about here: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
“You should be proud of yourself,” my husband said. “You wrote a book.”
It was nice to hear. It meant a lot. He went on to tell me how much I have achieved and how proud he was of me.
I keep thinking about his words. Something was bothering me. And I realized what it was.
I understand that I should be proud of myself. I wrote a book. Me. By myself. In English, which isn’t even my native language. While raising a baby. And a teenager (nope, it’s not easier, I’m sure parents of teenagers will understand.)
I wrote a whole novel.
Why do I not feel proud?
I mean, I do feel good about it. I love my story. I know that after this final round of edits that I’m doing now it will shine even brighter. I can’t wait to share it with the world. I do believe that it’s going to be a great book.
But where’s that overwhelming feeling of joy and pride? Where’s the “Wow, I’m so awesome, I did it” moment?
It’s not there. There’s a whole lot of other things though. There’s “I probably could’ve done it better”; there’s “Okay, so you wrote a book, good, now get to the publishing and marketing side of things, too much to learn and do, no time to lose”; there’s “I need to write more, only where do I find the time, look, other authors are writing and releasing several books a year”. And there’s a bunch of other disturbing thoughts and worries. I’m steaming ahead in an attempt to catch up, to make up for the time I “lost” (I know it’s a misperception, but it happens when you’re dreaming of writing all your life but only start doing it when you’re 41).
And I guess I’m in too much of a rush to pause, look back at what I’ve achieved, and feel the pride. The key word here is feel. Not just understand, acknowledge or think of it as a fact. It’s important to attach some emotion to it.
Like a kid bringing home an award or a trophy from school, beaming with happiness.
That kind of proud.
I tried to remember the last time I felt anything like that. I couldn’t.
I know the feeling, though, because I feel proud of other people.
Earlier today my niece called me with some great news about her work. It’s something that she learned quite recently, and she made incredible progress in a short period of time. And now she has people who want to learn it from her. She was so thrilled to get a request from a student; her voice was filled with so much genuine happiness and pride – I could hear it although we’re thousands of miles apart and I couldn’t see her face. And I felt that pride and happiness for her. You know, that somewhat ticklish feeling of warmth in your chest, like you have your own little sun there caressing your heart with its rays.
I feel proud of my kids for their successes, big or small. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming it makes me want to cry.
I feel proud of my husband for all his accomplishments and achievements.
Why am I not that generous with pride when it comes to myself? Why do I get a “well done” and a virtual pat on the back from myself (okay, maybe a little treat sometimes too), but not the genuine feeling of pride?
Why do I find time to write long to-do lists and set tons of reminders, but don’t find time to write a list of things that I’m proud of?
Because first of all, I need to allow myself to be proud of my own achievements.
I’ll imagine there’s a ‘Settings’ menu somewhere inside my mind, and all I need to do is open that menu, find the “Appreciate yourself and feel proud” option, and hit ‘Allow’. Done.
And then I’ll write down a list of things that I’m proud of. Most probably, it won’t be that easy at the start. But I’ll still try.
And when I succeed (because of course I will succeed), I will look at the list of my achievements and I will take each and every thing on it and infuse it with a feeling. A feeling of pride and happiness. A feeling of joy, fulfillment and gratification.
I want to sit there with my eyes closed and a huge smile on my face, thinking about how amazing and cool I am.
I want you to do the same. (Well, with your own achievements though. But feel free to think that I’m amazing too, I won’t mind.)
Go change your inner settings and make that list. What have you done (recently or years ago, it doesn’t matter) that makes you feel happy and proud?
Each and every one of us is fighting battles of our own, and going through certain struggles that in most cases are not even visible to people around us. First of all, because we don’t like to share them. I mean, who wants to admit their weaknesses? Besides, we live in the time when it’s so important (and easy) to build a pretty-looking image of ourselves and our lives on social media. Right? We don’t post pictures of our messy houses or a sink full of dishes, we don’t post selfies featuring puffy eyes and messy hair after a sleepless night.
We don’t go around telling strangers (not even friends and family in most cases) that we are going through depression, anxiety, that we are facing our deepest fears in our nightmares or maybe they’re haunting us in those few quiet moments that we get to ourselves.
We want to be strong.
We need to be strong.
We need to achieve goals, to meet deadlines, to tick boxes on our to-do lists, we need to be kind, positive, supportive, optimistic, full of inner light and neverending wisdom that we use to help others.
We need to focus on the positive.
We need to count our blessings.
We need to beware of sharing our weaknesses so that people don’t use them against us.
We need to be perfect humans.
Except we’re not. None of us. Even the most productive, successful, rich, enlightened, beautiful, handsome, smart, talented human beings are not perfect. For one reason only: they are merely humans.
Flawed and weak. Annoyed and annoying. Silly and inexperienced. In the middle of learning or not even willing to learn. Insecure or arrogant. Cheerful or frustrated.
We all have one thing in common – we’re all making small steps along this path called life, sometimes blindfolded, sometimes with our hands tied behind our backs, sometimes stumbling while walking barefeet and sometimes driving a brand new Ferrari or maybe even equipped with a night vision device.
We still rarely know where we’re headed, and how exactly we can get there.
And it’s okay.
It’s okay to fall, if you get up afterwards. And you know what, it doesn’t even have to be straight away, really. If you just wanna curl into a ball and lie there for a while, it’s also okay.
It’s okay to cry, if you smile later. Not one of those fake “I’m-pretending-to-be-okay-when-I’m-dying-inside” smiles. A genuine smile that comes after your tears have cleansed your soul, and the world around you becomes colorful again (because it does, it always does) and you see a dog chasing its tail or hear a child laughing.
Stop pretending to be a superhuman and just be yourself. Your beautifully imperfect, flawed,vulnerable, fragile … wait, here it comes, that terrible insulting word … WEAK self.
Just don’t forget that you are surrounded by the same kind. All of them masking their struggles, swallowing their tears, faking their smiles. Ordinary human beings.
And as soon as you accept and embrace your weaknesses, you’ll find your strength. It won’t stay forever. You will most definitely lose it again at some point. But if it stays with you even for a while, for a small part of the way, if it gets you off your knees and puts you behind the wheel of a Ferrari – it’s worth it.
I opened my plan for the week only to realize that it was the plan for the past week.
I didn’t make a new plan for this week.
And it’s already Thursday. Somehow.
My first thought was, “I failed. Again. I keep trying to do everything right, but I never succeed.”
Of course I don’t. I never will.
The thing is, I can’t do everything right. Nobody can. And the sooner I accept that, the sooner I will start not only feeling better, but also actually getting things done.
Because getting frustrated over your own imperfections doesn’t lead you to perfection. It does, however, consume a lot of your time and energy. You know, the time and energy you could’ve spent on being productive.
If you forgot to do something, you have at least two options: 1. Go and do it now. 2. Don’t do it, but instead keep punishing yourself for forgetting about it. Looks pretty obvious, but the fact is, we tend to choose the second option more often than we think.
My week wasn’t messed up because I didn’t make a plan. Sure, I might have missed a couple things, because plans really do help to keep track of everything that needs to be done. But I haven’t missed anything vitally important. I still got a lot done. The week isn’t even over yet, so I can still catch up on other things. And I can always write a new plan.
It’s all about the choices we make. I can choose to see it as a “failure”, or I can say “Oops, I forgot to do it. Oh well, so what. Next time I’ll try to do better.”
Imagine if we could make those choices in our interactions with other people.
Your boss can remember that you are a valuable employee and treat you with respect and gratitude. Or he can choose to be a rude jerk, because he had a fight with his wife earlier and he’s in a bad mood. His choice.
Your partner can focus on the love between you and all the good moments in your relationship, or hold a grudge because of something you said or did. Again, not your choice.
You smile at the lady behind the counter in a shop, wishing her a good day. How she responds to you is her choice.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could make choices for all those people? If you could choose for them to treat you the way you want? The way you deserve?
It would be pretty cool, I agree. But we know it’s impossible. (Which makes perfect sense, because, you know, free will and all that…)
However, it is very much possible when we deal with ourselves.
You can choose to treat yourself the way you deserve to be treated.
You can choose to be kind to yourself.
You can choose to be supportive of yourself.
You can choose to be proud of your accomplishments.
You can choose to be understanding when you make a mistake.
You can choose to be patient with yourself.
You can choose to be your own best friend.
Why would you even consider being anything other than that?