Sometimes, I’ve noticed a niggling thought lurking in my mind: “I’m not good enough.”
Mostly, in the last few years at least, I haven’t given in to the thought. Instead, I have taken it out into the open, let it have its say and then let it go. Logically, I knew it wasn’t true. Logically, I knew I was as good as anyone else.
Logically, I don’t even believe in “good” and “bad” people, because I can see that what most of us call “bad” is really just reacting to pain. The more emotional pain people feel, the more likely they are do something that hurts someone else. So I knew the belief wasn’t really true.
Yet something remained, a dull hum in the background. “You’re not good enough.”
It showed up most often when I sat down to write, whispering that because I was not an enlightened being or an expert at anything, what I wrote wouldn’t be of benefit to the world. I needed to wait, not send out words I might later regret, or that – worse still – might cause someone else harm.
This last fear was one that until last week I hadn’t even noticed for what it was. That I had to be careful because something I wrote could harm someone else didn’t seem like a belief, it just seemed true. Even when part of me yearned for my writing to receive recognition, another part of me felt uneasy. People might take to heart what I said, and that might in some mysterious way harm them.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who sometimes worries about “saying the wrong thing.” I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who sometimes felt the sharpness of a parent’s anger when, as a child, she said something to another adult that her parents felt embarrassed about. And I don’t suppose I’m the only person who, as a teenager, felt scared to speak to people and ashamed of having nothing to say.
Yet, it’s only fairly recently that I made the connection between these things, only recently that I realised a child chastised for saying the wrong thing could grow into a teenager scared to speak and into an adult who both desired and feared to write. Until then, all these things – the words that tumbled out of my mouth when they shouldn’t, the words that didn’t squeak out when they should, the blank mind staring a computer screen – all seemed to be something wrong with me, something that proved I wasn’t good enough.
For a long time, writing was my escape – a way to speak when I couldn’t, a way to make sense of life when it didn’t make sense. I wrote stories that only a few close friends read, and poems and journals that nobody did. (And I use the term “poem” loosely here, since I’m not sure you could call what I wrote poems!) Nobody was ever influenced by anything I wrote, since nobody read it.
Okay, not quite nobody. Every now and then, I’d show someone a story and they’d say it should be published – God alone knows why, since those stories were nowhere near publishable. Every now and then, I’d send something I’d written to a magazine, and was disappointed but not surprised when I heard nothing back.
Then, while training to be a teacher, although everyone else grumbled about the essays, they were what I enjoyed the most. I joined a writing class, and learned the craft. I discovered that my characters needed to do something, not just amble through life aimlessly, pining for lost loves or contemplating a glass of beer, all alone in a bar. (Actually, I rediscovered that, because in the stories I wrote when I was ten the characters barely stood still, they were so busy fighting spies and kidnappers.)
There’s something about writing that says, “I matter. My words and opinions matter.” Even when we write fiction, as I mostly did for years, we still present a perspective to the world, we use language in a way that stirs emotions and that encourages people to see our characters the way we want them too. Of course, not everyone agrees with us, and one person’s page-turner is another person’s turn-away.
When we speak, what we say does have an effect, but unless we create videos or other recordings, that effect is small in scale. I might remember my father telling me I shouldn’t have said what I did to an old lady; I might remember the guy in the college canteen who scowled at me and said I had no need to be so jumpy, he didn’t bite. But their words had no direct effect on anyone else.
When we write and share our writing with other people, the potential influence is much wider. There lay the crux of my dilemma, the reason why I sometimes wondered about my writing – if what I wrote might influence someone else, then I needed to choose words carefully, especially when I wrote non-fiction. For years my aim, whether writing fiction or non-fiction, has been to educate as much as to entertain. I’ve written short stories about domestic violence and about the after effects of miscarriage. My aim has also been, and still is, to show a kinder way to live. I’ve written a novel about how patterns of behaviour pass down through family generations and about how these patterns can be interrupted and lives transformed. I’m currently working on books, both fiction and non-fiction that address issues with compassion. As I grow in awareness, my hope is always to help others to do the same.
Sometimes from comments people leave on this blog, or reviews of my fiction, it seemed I succeeded. Yet, still the doubt remained: “I’m not good enough.” While journaling a few days ago, I realised that this is quite an arrogant thing to think. Who am I really, to say what is good enough? What if how I am right now is part of a bigger picture that I can’t see, is perfect for the world’s healing? What if I am in the exact right place for my part in that?
As I was journaling, an image of a beach a few miles from my childhood home came into my mind. To reach it, we used to walk for a few miles through hills, and there were several variations on the route. The journey to get to the beach was as enjoyable as reaching it. Each time, as I walked there, I saw the beach and the hills surrounding it in my mind’s eye. However, even if we had a rough idea of the route we’d take, we didn’t plan every detail. One path might be sodden so we take a detour, or we might just feel like going higher up than usual. When we were children, my sisters and I often walked high in the hills whereas my parents would walk a lower route. We could see them below us and we were all going in the same direction!
I keep on writing because it helps me make sense of the world and of my self. As I write, the image I see in my mind’s eye is a world filled with compassion and love, a world where the colour of skin doesn’t matter, where everyone has enough food and the planet is clean and healthy. Just like the journey to the beach, there are many ways to get there and I don’t need to know every detail of the route to keep going. I don’t need to wait till I reach the beach to feel good enough: I can enjoy the view along the way.