Regarding all the feelings of failure

This year I have readopted a title I'm very familiar with: freelance writer. I've done this before a few times in my life - not had another job while solely freelancing - and while it is "interesting" and a super flexible way to work (and it must be noted, something I am luckily able to do because of my spouse's steady job with benefits) I dislike a number of the specifics that accompany this career choice.

For one thing, even though I have better connections and am at least a little better established at this point in my life, I constantly have to think about finding new work, about how much it'll pay and if it's worth it. I also have to think about balancing my more creative work, which often requires many hours of writing and then waiting anxiously to get something placed, with my more lucrative work (things like copywriting for marketing departments at businesses and non-profits), which is guaranteed pay but takes time away from writing things I'm more excited about; things that may or may not eventually see the light of day in an actual publication. 

This is where I'm going to pause and say two quick things. One, I am an incredibly fortunate person, so please feel free to find this complaining obnoxious, even though I promise I'm simply trying to illuminate feelings and not elicit pity. Two, if you do find it super annoying, but are, say, someone who works at a newspaper, magazine or website and is looking for a pretty funny, always-caffeinated staff writer who will totally gossip with you in addition to doing - oh just for instance - a regular, relatable column about all the amusing moments in her life, then, yes, I'm available for interviews. 

Anyway, back to my unwarranted list of grievances. Another thing that's difficult for me about the writing life is that it can be a solitary affair. Happily, I do some journalism that requires interviews, and interviewing people about their passions is one of my favorite things. Also, because of the flexibility involved, I get to have coffee and lunch dates with friends, and I often work in public places. This is important for me because I'm an extroverted person and without the stimulus of human connection, I wither. Even a quick fix - a phone call, or banter with strangers while running an errand - helps a ton, and I try to infuse my day with these interactions.

When you get down to it, though, the actual writing part is a lonely affair. That's ok, because I enjoy the process (you know, mostly) but I sometimes wish I could schedule a meeting with a bunch of coworkers who could help me brainstorm ideas, or convince me to finish the damn article instead of checking Twitter for a quick sec, which will without quesion not be a quick sec. 


But the hardest thing for me lately is that I feel badly about myself. I know. I know. I shouldn't! I know, because I have supportive people in my life who give me nothing but confidence, and I know, because I am balancing a lot of life responsibilities and it's all going well. 

Also, by this point in my life, I know that this is not a helpful way to feel. It yields nothing good. I feel it anyway. 

I feel badly that I haven't published more things in more places, that I'm not pitching more stories, that I'm not making lots of money. I feel badly that I'm not writing about more "important subjects." Again, I know it's all fine. That I'm busy, have three kids and multiple other responsibilities that can slow the process down and there's nothing wrong with that; that I am publishing pieces I'm proud of and writing about ordinary life is what I tend to do well. 


I learned about the term "imposter syndrome" while talking with friends a few years ago. Somehow I'd never heard of it before. It's what happens when a person has trouble recognizing their accomplishments. They worry they'll be exposed as a fraud. When my friends explained the idea, I was like OH MY GOD. THAT. Yeah. I have that. 

To be clear, I don't feel this way all, or even most of the time. I have productive, happy days. I think that the reason these feelings crop up with my writing is that I'm trying to define success all by myself, and I'm not exactly sure what it is. I think that so many of us have these feelings - in creative and other professional endeavors - and in our personal lives, too. Sometimes I start worrying about whether or not I'm a good enough dog owner. Then I start worrying about how we are managing our upcoming move. Then I start wondering if I'm even an adult at all. 

When I start down this road of various anxieties, I don't always address it in the right way. The right way (and I know these actions are the "right way" because they feel good) might be to finish up a story, schedule an interview, or compose a perfect pitch, which, if not accepted, will be because the person on the receiving end is insane (is something I tell myself). The right way might be to get a few great paragraphs in on an essay I'm writing, or to do something totally non-writing related: call my mom, or exercise. 

The right way, it turns out, is not to start anxiously scrolling jobs sites or looking at questionable "freelancer needed" posts, and thinking about how to get more work in the quickest way possible. The right way to handle my feelings of insecurity is not eating candy or looking at social media and getting nervous about how successful all you guys are. It's not to text J one million stress-driven messages about whether or not I'm doing anything with my life, although, sorry buddy, I'm never going to stop doing this, you made a decision when you married me and it involved "in good times and bad." 

I don't have a tidy solution to resolve this issue. I DO find great solace in commiserating with friends, fellow writers and other parents. And in dumping on my feelings in a public forum like this one. Thanks, guys. 

I also decided to break out some elementary school math symbols, marking the first time ever I've used math in real life, and create this lesser than/greater than list to help me navigate these feelings moving forward, and maybe help some of you who trend towards this particular form of madness. Your examples are probably different than mine, but you get the picture. 

  • frantically scanning media jobs sites < writing an essay
  • working on my book > wondering if I'm too old to go to grad school and become an English professor
  • confidently telling people "I'm working on a book" > nervously telling people "I'm working on a 'larger writing project'" and then changing the subject
  • looking at social media, cursing myself for not being good at social media AND not as successful as that friend-of-a-friend who is really good at self-promoting < going for a run 
  • watching another hour of cable news < reading a chapter of a good book
  • blogging > composing a probably clever Tweet then deleting it at the last second
  • Googling people to find out how old they are and then feeling resentful of their youthful accomplishments < taking a 15-minute restorative nap
  • "fake it til you make it" > "I have no idea what I'm doing"
  • making an ambitious daily to-do list > indulging in negative feelings about my career 
  • scheduling my time effectively > waiting for inspiration
  • sending out more pitches, ideas and introductory emails < checking again to see if anyone emailed me back
  • tea > Diet Coke
  • walking the dog > all of the above