How many times have you read a triggering comment on your Facebook feed? By “triggering” I mean you read it and have a visceral response, such as your heart starts pounding, adrenaline kicks in, or you feel like hurling obscenities.
This doesn’t happen to me often, but it happened recently in response to this post:
“I came into my office this morning and found flowers from my husband for our anniversary, but I finished my first draft of my new book yesterday so I’m feeling doubly blessed. I had no idea I was going to finish writing the book yesterday. I’ve been writing like crazy for weeks, and then yesterday in the late afternoon I realized I was done! 245 pages. 61K words. Such a strange feeling. I’ve been consumed by the need to get this out of my body and onto the page. I’m relieved and deeply grateful. Now it’s in my editor’s hands and I can do things I’ve been putting off, like grocery shopping!”
The following morning, when I checked my Facebook feed I was delighted to see that an old high school friend had commented on my post. But my happy feelings dissipated when I read his message:
“Meant with admiration, respect and love, but you’re beginning to piss us all off with your constant abilities to create and run laps around us! Oh... and of course, congrats!!!”
Obviously he was joking. Right? Still. I felt provoked and had no idea how to respond. Who is this “all of us” I’m “pissing off” by sharing my hard-earned success? I wanted to tell him that if he was indeed pissed off—even mildly—that I am not pissing him off; he is pissing himself off with whatever he’s thinking, which has less to do with me and more to do with himself. Perhaps he’s dreamed of writing a book himself. I once read a letter that he’d proudly shared online that he’d written to his local newspaper. So perhaps I’d stirred the writer in him who’s telling himself he’s not doing enough. I don’t know.
But his issues aren’t my responsibility. Mine are. Feeling curious about my own agitation, which I knew was about myself and not him, I explored my feelings in my journal and realized that his comment smacked of the shaming (and all-too-familiar) who-do-you-think-you-are question. It’s a warning to stop shining your light, and says: It’s not okay to be who you are. Don’t brag. Keep your good news to yourself or others might get jealous.
Shining your light and living your dreams takes courage and grit. People who do not live this way, those who avoid taking personal and professional risks, who do not dare to leave their comfort zones, or examine limiting beliefs, may harbor resentment toward those who do. I can’t say that this was what was going on with my high school friend, but this was how it felt to me.
Meanwhile, I still didn’t know how to respond to his comment. I didn’t want to give it my thumbs up. I hadn’t liked it. I considered ignoring his message, but that didn’t feel right either. I like to respond to people who make the effort to comment on my feed, plus, underneath those two toxic lines I felt genuine warmth and good wishes. I wanted to say something honest, real, and encouraging because it felt like his comment had come from a place of insecurity. People don’t say things like that—even in jest—when they’re feeling great about themselves.
Finally, I posted this:
Thanks, Henry (not his real name). I appreciate your good wishes. It may look like I possess a “constant ability to create,” but this book, although it came together quickly, has been ten years in the making and reflects decades of hard work, discipline (from “disciple,” meaning “student”), sacrifice, insecurity, failure, persistence, courage, and faith.
His response: “O.K. I can breathe and relax now.” He included two emojis: one laughing and the other blowing a kiss, which warmed my heart and made me smile. I “liked” that comment.
I had a moment of wondering, What if my book hadn’t been a culmination of years of hard work? What if it had been born on the wings of inspiration? But that’s not my point. My message is this: we all possess a “constant ability to create.” We create all the time. But we also get in our own way. It takes commitment, dedication, and much more to produce a finished manuscript. Refuse to don the mantle of shame when, after years of effort and endurance, someone suggests you shouldn’t share—or even revel in—your hard-earned success.
I felt nervous writing this piece and was reluctant to share it with my editor. But her response was, “I like it. It’s an important topic.” And later, when I sent it to Christelle Lujan, the content marketing manager at Shewrites.com, who usually doesn’t comment on my posts, she had this to say: “This was a great piece, Bella! Loved how you handled that and love your thoughtful response. I have another writer friend who just suffered a similar “love you, but” scenario on social media and it seems to be the new “camouflage trolling.” Like her, I'm glad you didn't let it stifle you. It’s there for the people it can inspire, not for the people who see it as a threat! (I know this was unsolicited, but felt the need to lend my support of you too!) Thanks Bella.”
I wanted to share this because it’s inspiring to me the way women in the Shewrites.com and She Writes Press communities support one another. I’m grateful to be part of this caring, dynamic, and encouraging sisterhood of writers!