Failure, rejection, isolation: these are just a few of the things I fear on a day to day basis. Perhaps I don’t even take the time to reflect on what I fear the most. Fear can simmer in the back of my mind.
In our work, in our relationships, and in our spirituality, we often fear the worst happening.
I fear that no one will care about my next book.
I fear that the people I respect will reject me or, worse, ignore me.
I fear not having close friendships while everyone else has tight-knit communities who rally around them and cheer them on.
Writing has pushed me to face these limits in so many ways on a regular basis. On many occasions the worst has happened. I’ve faced all of these fears, and without a doubt they have left me devastated, sad, and despairing about the future.
Then something unexpected happened: the sun rose on another day, and another after that.
I didn’t really have any choice in the matter. I had to figure out what to do next.
I may have endured some of these struggles quietly, but don’t mistake that for handling them gracefully.
Facing failure, seeing my worst fears come to life again and again, and staring into the vast expanse of loneliness for long seasons pushed me to also see all of the unhealthy ways I’d relied on flimsy crutches to keep myself standing. Things such as the validation of the crowd or of specific authors and editors were given far too much weight in determining the value of my work and my progress in my calling.
Rejection today does not mean it’s inevitable for next year or five years from now if I keep working and try something different.
Most striking, the perspective I’ve gained after facing my worst fears revealed to me that so many of my worst fears were already realized long before I thought I was facing them. In many cases I lived in either delusion or ignorance, and it took falling on my face dramatically to finally remove my own blinders.
I saw the hard truth: while I feared that readers would be apathetic about my work, I could finally see in hindsight that very few people cared about my writing when I started out, and rightfully so. I needed a lot of time to work on it and to build deeper connections.
I don’t know how to avoid starting off so fragile. I know that the number one fear of bloggers is that no one will read their posts. So many don’t start because of this fear. I worked at my blog for several years without seeing much traction. It was the worst.
Then the sun came up again and again and again. I tried something different, and things finally started moving forward. I could point to several different factors, but perhaps I most needed to fail before I could figure out the right way forward.
With so many things in life we have to ditch the narrative of steady progress. Writing has showed me that it’s more like a series of wrong turns, crashes, and stretches of progress. I’ve been all over the map, and I don’t think I could truly move forward until I finally felt stuck, lost, or banged up beyond usefulness.
I had to be jarred from my daydream. It took failure to make me realize just how tough things were at the outset. And yet, once I saw how bad things were, I finally saw that things could may be OK if I kept moving forward.
I have no doubt now that the bad days will come again and again. I also know that there will be good days and even days of slow, incremental progress. I know that I have a calling to write, but that doesn’t guarantee a smooth trip forward.
Writing has served as a kind of lab for living. It has given me a much higher tolerance for pain and failure in other areas of my life. I am learning that I may fail others at times in relationships, but I can make progress in being more considerate or less controlling. I may really hate the first three months of running, but at a certain point I’ll start to crave my weekday runs. I may really struggle to focus for five minutes during prayer, but if I keep failing and trying month after month, I can build myself up to 20 minutes of quiet meditation that feel far more natural—and needed.
I still fear plenty of things. Worry is a lifestyle or habit that I’m learning to break. Some days I fail dramatically at trusting God with my worries and cares. I’m grateful that I’ve failed enough to know that tomorrow promises another day to take a step forward.