How To Overcome Unworthiness
I know it's rude to brag, but I excel at wanting things. In fact, I can want things so intensely that I feel paralyzed in anticipation of the outcome.
We humans are funny about the way we desire things, not like the straightforward longings of a woodpecker. A woodpecker knows what it wants and then seeks to get it without analyzing, weighing the pros and cons, or fearing what the other woodpeckers will think if he doesn't meet his 10,000 pecks a day quota or eat organic larvae. But when you and I decide we want something, suddenly shit gets complicated. You need to make lists and think about it and talk it over with trusted friends and question yourself and wait for a good time to execute, lest you screw things up. Especially when it's something you feel really strongly could bring you closer to the life you dream of living.
For some, it's finding a partner to love and with whom to share their life. For others, it's enough money to enjoy financial freedom. For me, it's a certain level of worth that's validated by external means. It's a certified stamp of approval that I belong in places I want to belong; specifically, as a writer. When I first decided I wanted to be the type of person who shares the written word with others, I put the term "writer" on such a high pedestal it felt like I'd need a 90 foot crane to get a peek at validation. To me, being a writer didn't simply mean being a person who writes, it meant I needed other people to adore my writing — constantly. Otherwise, I was just some hack with a keyboard and a decent vocabulary.
Admittedly, this was a convoluted and destructive concept I cooked up, but I woke up each day with such a strong desire in me to do this thing — to write and publish, to begin and be active in conversations — that I made the error of wrapping up too much of my worth in a word. I didn't feel eligible to write professionally because I didn't have a degree in writing or any experience that had been monetarily compensated, but I still desperately wanted to accomplish this goal. I thought the only way I could earn the title of writer was by achieving what I believed to be success: to be paid for my work and read by the masses. Then, and only then, would I experience the shift in my life I was hoping for. I would be happier, I would feel empowered, cupcakes would no longer have calories. In other words, I'd be living my dream life.
I wallowed around for a few years in this shadowland, secretly harboring my writing desires. Slowly, I began to dip my toe in the blogging pool and eventually I got a job writing. Finally, I was doing exactly what I thought I needed to both legitimize myself as a writer and make the leap from hobbyist to professional. I was being paid for my work and I was being read by the masses. And I didn't feel happier or more empowered and I tested lots of cupcakes and they still had calories.
The sticking point was, I couldn't jump the imposter hurdle. When I realized I had 100 percent accomplished what I believed I needed to take ownership of this illusive "writer" title, I had to step back and wonder why I still continued to feel less than. Obviously, I was looking for shifts in all the wrong places. The high of reaching milestones quickly evaporates when a desire for the next thing you need to feel validated is thought up. I began to understand that measuring my worth by the way other people respond to my writing is like serving a life sentence in a prison of my own making.
I started to take the steps to make a shift from within, to take back the reason I started writing in the first place: for the love of words, for self-expression, for leaving a special something in a spot where nothing existed before, as an offering to others. I quit that job that was paying me to write and made space to write for myself. I worked on letting go of what other people thought and allowed myself to find some freedom. Brilliant things started to happen. My creativity came out to play, I felt inspired and brave, and opportunities to share more through writing started to come my way.
But each time I arrived at a new place of opportunity, I began to diminish my belonging. There were two instances within one month, where I found myself in a circle of fellow writers, doing the obligatory introduction of one's self. Both times, I was the only person in the circle without an MFA or a published book (or both, as was the case for many of the circle folk). This knowledge immediately caused me to shrink. That familiar taste of comparison started to pollute my saliva and my worthiness demons started a riot in my brain. I was so consumed by the distracting belief that I hadn't earned a spot in these circles that I was blinded to the fact that despite lacking an advanced degree in writing or other shiny writerly credentials, I had somehow created a space for myself in these circles. And I couldn't even enjoy the moment. I had to consciously acknowledge that no one was forcing this agenda. None of the other writers asked me to argue my case for attendance or provide evidence that I could sit among them.
Once I let go of feeling like I had something to prove, I arrived where I wanted to be. There's more than one way to claim a seat. It's becoming easier for me to say "I belong here" and "I deserve this," because who is to say where I belong in this world but me? For so long it's been hard to say and believe these things because I was under the impression that if I take up space in a circle, someone more deserving was being denied a spot. But the truth is, I actually make it more possible for others to join the group when I make a new rut in the dirt. New paths become more available to others when you do things differently or break the mold. It shows them there's space for them too and the circle expands as we welcome others in. The other writers were never judging me, they set out an extra chair in their circle and made room for me.
We all have things we intensely desire and places where we want to belong. You might call it goals or aspirations or objectives, but whatever you call it, gently nurture it with love and breathing room. Don't allow the thing you want to become too precious, to be where you're hanging your worth hat. Gripping it too fiercely will cause suffocation. You are not going to cause trouble by allowing yourself to take up space somewhere that you feel drawn to be. It doesn't have to be hard or complex. You belong in theses circles for no other reason than being there makes your heart sing, even if the song is temporarily being drowned out by the loud hum of unworthiness. Underneath all the lies is a persistent woodpecker trying to pull his lunch from the inside of a tree. Decide what you want and then set forth in that direction. All the belonging you need springs from remembering who you are.
One day, you're not going to wake up. And what a loss it would be if you went to the grave without singing your song, without sharing your words, without claiming your spot in the circle.