We were going around the room, introducing ourselves at a recent writers workshop I was leading, when one of the attendees got negative about herself.
I listened to this woman — a two-time winner of our Metaphors Be With You contest — explain why she wasn’t making as much progress on a memoir as she would have liked.
Most of it had to do with her inadequacies.
I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Stop putting yourself down,” I said. “You’re a good writer and you need to stop thinking otherwise.”
I proceeded to explain to her and the 15 others why one of the first ways we sabotage ourselves as writers is to look down on ourselves.
“For starters, writers need two things,” I said. “The confidence to believe they have something to say to the world and the humility to let others help them say it better.”
Instead, too many people write — and live — quite the opposite: with little sense that they’re worthy to be heard or with little openness to accepting help along the way.
As we discussed negativity, another workshop participant chimed in with a reference to an old TV sketch in which comedian Bob Newhart plays a psychiatrist. He listens to a woman’s problem — “I have this fear of being buried alive in a box” — and offers her a two-word solution:
Stop worrying about being buried alive in a box.
I love it. In fact, when it comes to advice, you could do a lot worse than offering people those two words — “Stop it!” — and two others: “Start it!”
“Start it,” as in take a risk. Begin your project, even if you believe it might fail. Try something new, even if it might feel awkward at the start.
“Stop it,” as in quit thinking you’re unworthy. Quit sabotaging your success because someone long ago told you you weren’t good enough. Quit believing the inner lie that you’re inferior.
Frankly, you can’t get to the “start” without the “stop.” Or so says Christian-based author Henry Cloud, whose book Necessary Endings (HarperCollins, 2010) I recently read.
Cloud, who mainly writes for a business audience, suggests “stop it” is about more than an attitude. It’s about action — or, more precisely, our unwillingness to take it when necessary.
“In your business and perhaps your life, the tomorrow that you desire may never come to pass if you do not end some things you are doing today,” he writes.
But, some might say, stopping things can be hard.
Habits. Addictions. Relationships.
It’s easier just to stay the course. To not confront the norm. To not risk.
Easier. But seldom better.
“Endings,” Cloud argues, “bring hope.”
Frankly, I’d never thought much about that until a friend recommended the book and I gave it a read. I tend to be in a constant “add” mode. But, Cloud argues, sometimes you need to subtract. Prune. Say goodbye to something in your life — and, yes, in some cases, someone.
Can it hurt? Almost always. But, he argues, there’s a difference between “hurt” and “harm.”
Last week my mother moved out of the house she’d lived in for nearly half a century. It was difficult saying goodbye. But the payoff will be a simpler existence that better fits her life today. It hurt, yes, but to stay could have brought harm, she figured; it was too much house for someone who is 87 years old and slowing down.
It took courage to make the change. But, in sailing terms, to stay moored to sameness simply because change can be challenging is to miss the glories of the wind in your sails.
At the end of the day, my workshop student — the one lamenting not being good enough — offered a piece in the voluntary read-aloud session. The class’s enthusiastic laughter and applause affirmed what I’d felt myself: her story was among the best of the bunch.
I hope she’ll look back on this day as a new start — a new start only made possible by her first being willing to stop.