I just returned home from Chicago where my memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, won silver in the Body, Mind & Spirit category of the Benjamin Franklin Awards, sponsored by the Independent Book Publishers Association. It was a wonderful event, especially since I got to hang out with fellow She Writes Press authors and meet new people. It was also fun to visit a city I’d never been to before, and to feel celebrated by my family, friends, and communities. Thank you if you’re among those who congratulated me and wished me well, or if you were a librarian, bookseller, or industry professional who voted for Raw.
I’d never won an award for my writing before. I’ve experienced much more rejection as a writer than accolades. My writing career didn’t unfold in the way I dreamed it would. Eighteen years ago, unable to find a publisher for another memoir I’d spent years writing, and devastated by the shock and fear of 9-11, I didn’t think anything I had to say mattered. My professional expectations crashed and I told myself I was a failure—not only with my writing, but also in my life. The one exception and the thing that kept me going was being a mom.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had lived decades searching for a “get-out-of-jail-free” card, unconsciously jockeying to achieve things in the hopes that my accomplishments would somehow prove I was okay.
But as soon as I attained one goal, it was never good enough, so I’d set my sights on another. I became like a performing monkey jumping through hoops, trying to please or impress “people,” which boiled down to trying to please and impress my insatiable inner critic. I was imprisoned by my own innocent, but misguided, thinking.
It took me a long time to understand that there never was a bar I needed to reach. No one was judging me as strongly as I was judging myself. And here’s the kicker: the judgments were illusions—ideas I enlivened and empowered with my belief.
I still remember the day, in grad school, when one of my spiritual psychology teachers said, “There’s no such thing as failure, only opportunities for growth.” What if that’s true? I wondered, amazed. Caroline Myss, New York Times bestselling author and medical intuitive, asks, “What thoughts will you invest your belief dollars in?”
I knew it was in my best interest to “invest” wisely, so I stepped back, observed my thinking, and saw that just because I had a thought didn’t make it true. This was my get-out-of-jail-free card!
I realized that I could choose to adopt a learning orientation toward life, and from that point forward started to consider my time here on “Earth School” as a chance to simply live, love, and learn. Where in the past I’d had to dig deep to validate myself, and my work—often in the face of menacing doubts and despair—“Earth School” me understood I was fine the way I was. We all are. I realized that in grasping or clinging to things and people I thought would save, liberate, approve of, or validate me, I was ignoring and inadvertently pushing away my inherent goodness.
Joy is our natural state. I didn’t have to conquer life to make it good! Life started out good and remained good underneath my cacophony of crazy thinking. When my frenetic mind finally settled, I realized that I could slow down, breathe, and relax.
“This is really big!” someone wrote on my Facebook feed about the award.
What’s “big” is not that I won an award for my memoir, but that I wrote the book at all. I had to allow it to write me! I showed up and wrote even when no one else noticed or cared—because I had to do it for myself. The writing sustained me for a long, long time and was its own reward.
I had excellent help along the way. Books don’t get written in a vacuum. I’m grateful beyond words to the coaches, guides, friends and family who cheered me on.
Looking back over my trip to Chicago, I catch myself replaying and basking in positive memories. But immersion and identification with any thinking—positive or negative—pulls me out of what’s here now. The past is gone. It’s time to return to work and life in this moment, which is where life’s great gifts reside.
If you’d like support accessing your own transformation and writing gifts, check out my spring classes, which begin next week. I have one spot open in my Thursday night on-site circle and two spots available in the Wednesday online circle. My classes may bring you closer to making your writing dreams come true!