I’m in a hotel-seeming conference room, 360 degrees of beige, one of those inevitable rooms with jaundiced lighting, canned air, a platter of sweating cheese always, always in the corner. I am sweating, too, in the sleeves of my fake leather jacket (call it faux, darling, how vulgar), and I am listening restlessly to a prowling woman in a bright, tight dress with a bright white smile who is talking to me about synergy and personal branding and sharing my gift. Her teeth gleam, her giant diamond wedding ring gleams, as she talks about her gift and how she discovered it, unearthed the creamy pearls of self-actualization, the shining pools of a dream career and a globe-rounded existence. What is it you want from your life? she asks the medium-size crowd seated obediently, scribbling notes with damp, self-manicured hands, and now realization is sweating from my pores: I believe I am a writer who has nothing to say.
On some level, I believe it, this ultimate betrayal of my self-forged identity of Writer—always, always with a capital W. W for wondrous, w for wordsmith, w for what the fuck am I actually doing with my life? Everything has been said, isn’t that true, every thought I’ve had, a hundred, a thousand, people have had before except wittier, prettier, sooner. I am a cliché before I even put pen to paper, finger to key. There is not an original thought left in the world, and god, how many times has that exact sentence been written before? I have nothing of value to contribute, no way to peer above the din, there is no exit to this echo chamber. I am a faceless fish in a dwindling pond of ideas.
This is the great fear of my professional life, where realism and insecurity form a toxic brew that makes me yearn for complacency, for stupidity, for mediocrity. Because what if that’s the real truth? What if I am of that sad and sadly common breed that has talent, but just a little; drive, but not enough; self-awareness, but only to the degree to cause self-consciousness? What if (really, no ifs) I hold myself back because really trying hard just means I’ll fail once and for all? Do I really have any special quality at all, or am I just so eager to believe the ones who praise me that I convince myself? Or am I more qualified than I realize but so afraid of fucking up that I refuse to put myself out there? Does it even matter?
I have these insane dueling impulses in me at all times: a cringing need to stay as far from the limelight as possible and a burning desire to be recognized, feted, adored. I yearn for positive feedback, but I’m so afraid of the negative that I settle for barely rippling the pond. But maybe these are all excuses, too—maybe I simply have nothing to say, no critical analysis to give, no opinions that merit wider audience than my own reflection. I am so very scared to be wrong, to be bold, to be innovative in whatever limp, iceberg-lettuce way that’s possible these days. I am forever discontent. Which, let’s be real, is the biggest writer cliché of all.
What I need, I realize, is to stop putting the cart before the horse. Failure—the mere thought of failure—is fucking terrifying, but that’s no surprise to you or me. I have always done the easy thing, pursued the path that gets me the most praise, the most outside reinforcement. Perhaps it’s sad that only now, at 28, I’m realizing how damaging that reliance on outside forces is. But I’m also realizing (obvious, I know—should know) that I’m not the only person who’s felt this way, who’s feeling this way right now. Every single person seems more whole to outsiders than they seem to themselves—so as hard as it is for me to picture, there might be people on this earth who look at me and think I have all my shit together. So if other people can be convincing in that regard, I can be too. Eventually, maybe I’ll even be able to convince myself.