Unstuck

I attended a writing workshop today, where the final prompt was:

“Where are you stuck in your life? Write a letter to the thing that’s keeping you stuck. Thank it for the lesson, then give it permission to let go.”

And here’s what I wrote:

Dear Comfort Zone,

Thank you for the assurance and safety you’ve provided all this time. For being a solid foundation from which I found the stability I needed.

And now that you’ve served your purpose, I must let you go, as I need to grow beyond the confines of your ever-present borders.

I need to explore new frontiers and give myself to new experiences, new people…give more to the world beyond your warm cocoon.

It will take bravery – courage – to move forward, but the signs are there: that it’s my time to leave you.

So, I thank you for your service. I hope to keep you as a happy memory which I’ll revisit in times of nostalgic reflection, as I sit in a new life – far beyond the limitations I clung to when I inhabited your walls.

Sincerely,
Me

It was an empowering end to an afternoon of exploratory writing, which was cathartic for all of us. And though I don’t yet have detailed plans to move this from mere words to life actions, I did sincerely mean these words.

Recent developments have confirmed to me that it’s time to step out from this familiar territory. Territory which I’ve settled into repeatedly in my life, because I’m not a naturally adventurous person. I tend to not take risks.

Except when I want something really badly. When that happens, I’m determined – driven – and I keep going until I achieve my objective. And even though it may get uncomfortable at times, I persist because I cannot accept the act of quitting on something which means so much to me.

While this newfound hope applies most sharply to my career – where I hope I see some significant movement in the next year – I think it also applies to my personal writing, which is in desperate need of a push.

You see, my writing – prior to publishing my book – was almost always for myself. It was therapeutic – cathartic – and an added bonus was that my words resonated with some people. What I wrote touched a few people in a positive way.

This snowballed into the book – which was a sort of crowning achievement: a cherry on top to commemorate a decade of baring my soul in writing.

But once the book came out, I hit an unwanted turning point. Though my intention was always to reach people – no matter how many or few – inevitably, I started judging my output based on numbers and feedback received. This thing, which was so close to my heart – which I hoped would reach many more people – became the standard by which I measured my worth as a writer.

Subsequent work I put out, too, took on that same standard.

And – despite reaching a fair amount of people (most of who I knew in person) – I felt that, for that book, I didn’t receive the feedback or interest I wanted. And because of that, it felt like the book didn’t have the impact I wanted it to have.

Subsequent works, too, rarely received the kind of feedback I felt they deserved.

And so, though I had a second book compiled and ready to take to publication, I put it on hold. I parked it – with no resumption date in mind – because I felt so deflated that I didn’t want to put in all this effort just to have the same perceived disinterest again.

And the crucial word there is perceived.

Because, as the wonderful folks in the workshop pointed out, one’s personal perception is never a true indication of the reality. The facilitator reminded me that I am reaching people – I’m reaching her, at the very, very least – and she enjoys my work. And even if I’m not seeing the type of feedback or numbers I think I should, the fact remains that what I do does have an impact.

The way people connect to it doesn’t necessarily look like what I think it should look like. And people won’t necessarily tell you when it has an effect. That’s just the nature of putting something out there in this kind of medium – whether online or in print: you’ll never know about every instance in which your output reaches the hearts of others.

And so, the point is that “success” should never be measured based on expressed external validation. Yes, getting that external validation feels good. Of course it does. Everyone wants to hear that they’ve done a good job or made a difference.

But it shouldn’t be your yardstick.

The discussion brought up a snippet I saw recently, from an interview with the late musician Prince: he said that as soon as you make a creative work, that’s success. But once others say something about it, your perception of it changes. But that’s looking through somebody else’s eyes. We should rather gauge success based on what we feel in our hearts – not our minds. We think with our hearts.

So, whereas our minds get tainted by the opinions of others, with creative work, the focus should be the heart: all that matters is that this is our creative expression and that it fulfils us. And that is the success.

And so, I need to remember that.

And I need to remember my intentions for my writing. It’s firstly for myself – my own expressions to fulfil something within me. Then, beyond the self, when putting it out, it’s to reach people and have my words impact them in a positive way. Even if it’s just one person. If something I write touches someone – encourages them, comforts them, inspires them…has any meaningful effect – then that’s all I need. Goal achieved.

So, those are intentions I need to keep in mind and constantly renew.

And while it is hard to shut off the part of the mind that craves validation, I need to do it. I need to just push on and put out my work. Share it with whoever sees it – accepting the fact that I’ll never know the true reality of how it is received.

I can no longer judge success based on expected feedback. I cannot allow unmet expectations to kill the chance to make an impact.

I need to get back to basics and just do what I love doing.

All we have is our intentions and our actions. The results are never in our control.

And while we’re on the topic of self-doubt, here’s some important advice from author Steven Pressfield – in video made by Nick Stubbs:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_pWsY-9It0


3 thoughts on “Unstuck

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Yacoob. Your letter to your comfort zone is so intelligent and compassionate. I’m glad you’re feeling more committed to your wonderful gifts because they pull you into your spirit and into the world, and honor your observations, and give you joy, Yacoob. And I can say, with deep appreciation they touch me deeply, too.

  2. Excellent commentary Yacoob, and a great reminder to all of us to not judge everything according to external perceptions. It hits close to home personally, and is more than a little inspiring (I will be bookmarking this one). So go ahead and notch a positive impact on at least one more reader. Also, nice to see you making the leap into new horizons.

  3. This post spoke to me. Every word felt like it was listening to myself speak. I’m in the exact same boat experiencing the exact same issue. Yes, it’s hard to sometimes remind ourselves that our writing always started for our own selves. Anything that we receive on top is a bonus and should only be treated like a bonus. Thank you so much for sharing, I’ve saved it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s