Let’s see, first, I had the opportunity to write an extremely personal essay for Whole Living. It’s the magazine piece I’m the most proud of (and it actually just won the American Society of Journalists & Authors award for best essay in the personal service category for 2010). Then, Sew Retro was published. The book represented something I had long wanted to do. It was a ton of work, but absolutely wonderful and I couldn’t have been more proud. Then, in September, I had another baby. What, you haven’t seen enough pictures of her? Well, of course you can see another one!
But then, everything about my business fell apart. And I mean, fell effing apart.
I lost one client after another, for reasons completely out of my control. Editors got laid off. Freelance budgets dissipated. Projects promised themselves and then scampered away. Checks took forever to come. People I desperately needed to return emails didn’t return emails.
I found myself dipping into the first “only touch in case of emergency” fund in the fall. By the end of the year, I was looking at dipping into the second such fund, and one terrible day in January, I had to. I sobbed (quietly) on the phone with some investment banker I didn't know as I sold bonds from the back-up, back-up investment account. I could hear my husband with the kids downstairs, and in that moment, I felt like a complete and utter failure.
When I started freelancing nine years ago (almost to the day—I was laid off April 2, 2002, and decided to go into business for myself the next day), I always thought it seemed too good to be true. Why was I allowed to do something I loved so much—write—and make a really good living doing it? How were my husband and I allowed to live this charmed life, where he was able to stay home with our kids and I was able to support us by doing something I knew I was meant to do from the time I wrote my first article about Birchwood Drive (my childhood street) when I was eight years old? Surely, someone was going to come knocking on the door any day and tell me the jig was up.
In January of this year, I figured maybe the jig was, in fact, up.
But then, here is what happened. I interviewed a researcher for a story about exercise motivation. It was just one more story, nothing particularly special about it. But something in what she said struck a nerve. It goes like this: we create “possible selves”—the people we see ourselves being in 5, 10, 15 (or however many) years. Regarding weight loss and exercise motivation, researchers have found that the “feared-self”—envisioning yourself overweight, unhealthy, sick, diabetic, unhappy, and unable to do the things you love—is a motivating image for someone to shape up. But you know what else? The “hoped for-self”—where you imagine yourself vibrant, energetic, healthy, active, and doing everything you love—is motivating too. In fact, the hoped for-self is equally as motivating as the feared-self.
So, the researcher went on to explain, if both the negative vision of yourself and the positive vision of yourself are both equally as motivating, why wouldn’t you just choose the positive version?
This was the exact right a-ha moment, exactly when I needed it. Why not just choose the positive? Forget about weight loss. It’s a prescription for anything in life that can have two (or more) possible outcomes. Of course, fear will motivate you. But it may motivate you to make desperate decisions (like working with a publication you know treats writers like crap), which will just keep you in a cycle of fear and desperation (like stewing over the fact that your story wound up being killed/you didn't get paid/the piece turned out to be a nightmare).
So why not just see the future you want, and make decisions based on that?
Something about that conversation actually changed a thought process in my head, and it made me realize that I was still in control. I could choose. It was a week or so after that when I met coach Darla LeDoux at a networking event, and a few weeks later, hired her to help me both grow my business and change my mindset. In the midst of all that, I got a huge new custom publishing client, who’s been a delight to work with. I’ve met a ton of new people (some are now clients, some are friends, and some are both) and I just closed one of my best months (March) ever. I don't think any of it is a coincidence. I think I finally stopped thinking the jig would someday be up, and as soon as I did that, it changed the way I thought about everything.
I still have moments when the feared-self pops up. Of course I do. Fear is primal. But I keep choosing the positive, the hoped-for thing. The thing, as Emily Dickinson so brilliantly says, with feathers.
Here’s to good choices and good tomorrows!