Writing and publishing my first book (Simple Truth) in 1990 was probably, at the time, the greatest self-image battle I had ever faced. I had always wanted to be, and planned to be, a writer. For as long as I could remember, that was how I saw myself. But, actually writing and publishing a book, that was another matter altogether.
With crystal clear hindsight, it is easy to see now:
As long as I postponed writing that first book, as long as I just never got around to actually doing it, as long as it was a project â€œin development,â€ I was safe. I could remain â€œpotentiallyâ€ a great writer. But, if I were to actually write the book, I would be trading my safe, secure â€œpotential successâ€ for the real world possibilities of rejection and failure.
When I was brave enough to admit what I was going through, my good (and insightful and very honest) friend, Evelyn, set me straight. â€œIf you want to have any chance of writing a great book,â€ Evelyn said, â€œyou are going to have to be willing to write a total piece of crap, the worst book ever written.â€ She was describing the leap of faith that we all face countless times in our lives, when we refuse to let fear be in charge. Evelyn was right: if I wanted the chance to succeed as a writer, I had to be willing — really willing — to fall flat on my face. I have continued to learn and relearn this important lesson, in more ways than I could possibly count, well beyond 1990, and well beyond the business of writing and publishing. These days, it shows up on one of my nutshell cards, simply as, â€œIf you want to succeed, be willing to fail.â€
(Any of this sounding familiar?)
When the Simple Truth was complete, Evelyn, wrote me this short note:
â€œWriting is a death defying high wire act, and you have pulled it off.â€
Evelyn had challenged me to take the leap, and now her words marked a turning point in my self-perception — not only as a writer, but also as a human being. I keep that brief note close by, to remind me — not so much that I have fulfilled a dream, but that I am wide awake, living in the real world. I took a big risk, my big risk, and it became a right of passage into a strange new world of genuine self-responsibility. I would have never guessed the real world could be so much fun, even without a guarantee of success.
As a recovering alcoholic, I learned the value of not taking the insane risks associated with my addiction. But I have also learned that there are sane risks. These are the risks we take in our daily lives to avoid becoming stuck in the quicksand of second-guessing and self-doubt. These are the risks we take when we stand up . . . and tell our inner bullies to sit down and shut up, when we refuse to let fear run our lives.
And then there are the bigger risks — like writing my first book. These risks are more than just sane; they are necessary for our sanity.
Have you faced your big risks? Are you facing one now? Life is a death defying high wire act. Are you pulling it off?