This issue has been coming up a lot lately, as I work towards self-publishing my first novel, and looking for actual jobs. One of my deepest, and most consuming, lifelong beliefs has been that someone else has to tell me that I deserve to be published, preferably someone with their name on book jackets around the world. And someone important has to tell me that I deserve a good job. I don’t believe that I’m supposed to ask for what I want; it has to be offered to me, or else I have no idea if I have a right to it.
This puts some serious limitations on my life, as you can imagine. It takes an enormous amount of work, and days, weeks, and months of self-loathing, to push myself to ask for things despite my underlying concerns. Rejection generally feels like a confirmation of what I already think about myself: that I, fundamentally, don’t deserve to get what I want.
In one of my social work textbooks, it said that, according to research, it takes four positive comments for your brain to process what you’ve heard, compared to a single negative comment. And I grew up with a ratio of closer to one positive comment to ten thousand negative comments, so my self-image makes sense, scientifically. And when I look at the piles of rejections, from agents and publishers and magazines and schools, I can’t escape the belief that all of those negative comments were true.
I want to feel like it’s okay to self-publish my novel, and to ask people to buy it, even without the middle man of a publisher telling them that I’m worth it. And I want to feel confident applying for jobs, or asking for help from friends, or coworkers, or teachers. I want to feel like I can ask for attention from people when I want it, and not always believe that someone else deserves it more than I do. But I don’t know how to get there. I had hoped that three and half years of school, and internships, and facing one fear after another, would change this. But I am still me.
There are people who are kind, compassionate, and generous who are also ambitious and willing to ask for what they want. They are confident enough in their self-worth that, whether they succeed or fail, they continue to believe in themselves and persist. That doesn’t describe me. My inner monologue rips me to pieces as soon as I send out a query letter, or fill in an application, or even look at a listing for a job opportunity.
Part of the problem is that I can only remember the times when what I wanted was ignored or deemed impossible. I can’t remember the successes, even though I’m sure there were many. I can’t remember being offered things that I wanted, even though I’m sure that’s happened too. My brain is pre-programmed with these glitches and I don’t know how to change that.
Asking for attention is scary, because I never know what kind of attention I’ll get in response. I’m not someone who prefers negative attention to no attention. If anything, my default choice is invisibility. I don’t even need an invisibility cloak, I just stop making eye contact. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me. Right?
But I want more attention. I have things I want to say, that I think other people might want or need to hear. But more than that, I’m tired of being invisible. The transition to being more visible has been slow, and painful, but it still seems to be something I want. Especially as a writer. I want to believe that I deserve to be published, not simply because everyone should have the right to be heard, but, competitively, I want to believe that my voice has value to other people and is worth hearing. But that’s so hard to sit with, for me. Its feels like arrogance, and I automatically cover my face with my hands in anticipation of slings and arrows coming my way.
I still don’t have a thick enough skin to protect me from criticisms and rejections, because I always think I should take them in and take them to heart. I don’t quite know when I’m allowed to ignore the negativity.
Miss Cricket always seemed to be able to ask for what she wanted, until Ellie arrived. Then, suddenly, Cricket was more demure, waiting behind Ellie, not sure if she should come forward and ask for her share of the treats. I’ve had to make a point of creating a space for Cricket, so that she knows that she deserves what she wants. It’s not Ellie’s fault, though. She’s willing to share, but something in Cricket shrinks back. Ellie is a superstar at asking for what she wants, but she’s also able to adapt to a No without losing her spirit. Somehow, I will have to teach Cricket, and myself, how to follow Ellie’s lead.
This might take a while.