The Courage to Try
I am tackling my book project, and I’m struggling. Like all of you, I’m juggling a few things right now. I’m parenting a toddler, teaching a few college courses, maintaining a home, nurturing a marriage, blogging (OK, barely), and trying to take care of myself. And writing a book. Some of those things seem to rise to the top of my priority list every day, and others always seem to be lingering at the bottom, which invariably means that they either don’t get done or they don’t get done well. Working on my book is one of the things that keep ending up at that bottom, not seeming to be as important as my other responsibilities. I know that if I’m going to write this book and write it well, that has to change.
It isn’t just about finding time and keeping a lot of balls in the air, though. It is also about fear. It is the fear that I can’t write the book I want to write. I don’t even really care if anybody reads it. What I care about most is that it is good and that at the end of this process I am proud of it. And I’m afraid of all the hard work that I know is between here and there. It isn’t just punching a clock and meeting deadlines. It is about the labor of thinking and synthesizing and storytelling. I know that it requires my full attention and energy for at least some portion of every day. The scale of the project scares me.
Husband tells me: “You only get one chance to write your first book.” I’m so afraid that it won’t be any good that I sit and stare at the screen or go and fold a load of laundry instead, neither of which will bring me closer to a book.
In light of all of this fear, I was inspired the other day by an interview with Ben Affleck on NPR’s Fresh Air. Terri Gross asked Affleck about his experience with directing his first movie, Gone Baby Gone, and this is what he had to say:
“I was very, very scared. I just didn’t know if I could do it. The only thing I can think of is … running a marathon where you just don’t know: ‘Am I even going to finish? You know, maybe I’ll fall over at mile 15 or something.’ It seems so daunting and so far, and, yeah, I had been prepared in the sense that I had directed shorts, I had always wanted to be a director. … But that just felt like very little compared to the task of directing a movie, when I went into it. And every day I was scared, and I probably stayed that scared throughout … and not sure of myself at all.”
This reminded me that even great people must get scared sometimes when they tackle a new challenge. And still they begin. They start with the first mile and then the second, and that’s the only way to finish the task. And then someday they reflect on their self-doubt and laugh with Terri Gross on NPR. We can’t all have the talent to produce a great work of film or writing, but we do all have to start somewhere. We have to have a little courage to begin and to keep coming back day after day, even when it is difficult.
It made me think back to other challenges that I have tackled and completed – and eventually done well. Preparing for my qualifying exam. Writing a dissertation. Developing a completely new area of expertise for my postdoc. That massive review article that consumed most of a spring. Grant proposals. A few nonacademic tasks come to mind, too. Planning a smallish wedding. Moving, many times, and once with a baby. Packing that first box and then the second. I’ve done a few difficult things in my life. Is writing a book so very different?
Anyway, thanks for the pep talk and the little dose of courage, Ben. I needed it.
What have you tackled that scared the crap out of you?