Not long ago, I was talking to my pastor about what I do. You know, my vocation. I am a writer. It’s easy enough to say that now (although, boy, did it take a lot of work to get to that point, to feel legitimate enough to confidently state, “I am a writer”). I told him I write, and he nodded, seeming impressed. Then the next question came: “What do you write?”
It seems I have cleared one hurdle only to encounter another. That second inevitable question, “What do you write,” has threatened to throw me into a tizzy numerous times. How often am I tempted to say, “I don’t know,” or “a hodgepodge of stuff,” when the ever-exuberant cheerleader in me knows it is so much more. Here was a wide open chance, with my pastor, to assert myself and get serious about the way I promote myself.
Except I blew it.
I write essays. I write nonfiction. I wear the hats of both journalist and essayist, and I would like to say I wear them proudly, putting each on as the need or calling dictates. Successes? I’ve had them. National magazines. Chicken Soup for the Soul. A signed contract for a major magazine, where one of my newest essays will appear soon. (More on that in another post.) A publisher knocking at my door with an offer to publish my first book. (More on that later, as well.)
I could have said all of those things. But I didn’t. I think my answer to his question, “What do you write,” came out something like this: “Um, well, I write nonfiction. Essays and stuff.”
“Oh?” he says. “Have you been published?”
“Yes.” I nod meekly, then look down.
This is where I wait for my husband to come to bat for me, to talk me up and say yes, I’ve been published in X, Y, and Z places. And that I am quite awesome.
Except he is off chasing our two-year-old son around the backyard, not present in this conversation.
Why can’t I say these things myself? The answer, in the moment, at least, is my painful attempt to draw the line between modesty and self-depreciation, between assuming confidence and flat-out bragging. That means, I don’t want to ever come across as having a big head about myself. At the same time, I can’t afford to talk myself down – and I know I don’t deserve to be talked down. Yet -my fault seems to lie in leaning a little too far toward the self-depreciating side of the spectrum. So fearful am I of coming across as egotistically proud that I run the other direction, threatening to stomp myself into the mud.
That’s what I felt happened that night as my pastor and I talked about my vocation. I hardly gave myself a chance; but at least he can’t say I have a big head.
I left that conversation that night with an icky taste in my mouth. I wanted a second chance, a do-over at that exchange. It didn’t come, of course, but a strong lesson did.
My second chance will come in the forthcoming times I am asked, “What do you write?” I promise myself that I will respond confidently, that I will answer with assertiveness. It might feel risky at first, claiming success or listing specific accomplishments. But I know a fear of egotism – a fear of becoming a bragger – is a skin I must shed if I want to fully prosper in what I do. That’s not to say being aware isn’t important; of course I never aim to be egotistical. But for myself, I know I deserve better than that head-hanging mumble, “I am a writer.”
*How do you respond when others show interest in your vocation?