Rock climbing

Every time I enter a bookstore, I am astounded by the sheer volume of literature available. All those books were written not by gods, but by flesh and blood human beings just like me. Why then, when I sit down to write, do I feel as if I couldn’t possibly accomplish what these men and women have?

Throughout my years of formal schooling I was considered a talented and instinctive writer. My mother still has short stories and research papers with glowing comments from English teachers. Books were my passion and words flowed from my hand with ease, no matter the topic. However, when the time came to choose a college major, practicality trumped creativity and I settled for a career with a guaranteed return on investment.

It would be self-indulgent to blame my parents for my career choice; they only wanted what was “best” for me and considered a degree in English Literature about as useful as one in Art History. The final decision was mine, and I dare say my life would not be as rich and colorful today had I taken a different route.

If I had chosen to make writing my life, I would have been forced to do it with no way out. Instead, I now find myself in the privileged position of wanting to – not needing to – write. Why would someone so blessed feel so tortured? I have so many ideas, enough to fill an entire bookshelf, yet I can never get past the first three pages of a new writing project without stopping to criticize my work until I find it so pathetic that I abandon it entirely. I even named my most recent undertaking “Another hopeless novel”, because I couldn’t be bothered to come up with a witty title for something that would obviously not be seen through to fruition.

The main problem is not my writing talent, it is my fear of failure. More specifically, it’s about failing and not finding anything or anyone to blame except myself. When you launch a business, you are obviously not guaranteed success. If it flourishes, it is due to your entrepreneurial talents, of course. If it fails, you can easily blame the slumping economy, the market segment, the employees, the product manufacturers, or any number of scapegoats that will aid you in escaping with your dignity unscathed. When you write, if the book succeeds it’s because of you. If it fails, the culprit is one and the same.

Why must fear of failure be so paralyzing? It is like hot melted tar, oozing around all facets of my life and hardening around my feet as I try to take a step in a new direction. I’m surprised I’ve been able to accomplish anything in my life; most of the time, I won’t try a new activity if I feel I will not excel at it from the beginning. When I am faced with a situation where my talents and immediate success are in doubt, I will lash out at imaginary culprits or procrastinate until a viable scapegoat is found.

If I can’t run as far as I feel I should be able to, I blame my tight sports bra for not allowing me room to breathe. If I can’t climb a steep hill on my bike, I blame Mr. T for riding too fast or for talking and distracting me. When I was learning to rock climb, months went by before I could try any bold moves that might require missing a hold and relying on my harness and rope to keep me up, because in my head that simply meant I wasn’t good enough. And don’t even get me started on pop quizzes!! I go into full panic mode if I haven’t been given enough warning to achieve a perfect score. Sadly, these same feelings of inadequacy paralyze my writing after only two or three pages.

I would very much like to overcome my fear of failure. I want to not have to be perfect in order to enjoy something. I yearn to participate in activities simply for the joy they bring, and not for the sense of achieved perfection that must undoubtedly accompany them.

I guess life is like rock climbing: In order to reach the top I must be willing to risk a few slips, knowing that the safety harness and rope of my education and the unconditional support of my partner will be there to catch me if I tumble.