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The thin line and the stories we tell ourselves

February 14, 2010

Insecurity. Confidence. Arrogance.

There’s a very thin line dividing these three things. Sometimes the line is invisible and sometimes there’s such a blur that one can’t be distinguished from the other.

Take writing for example.

I am a writer. I have always been a writer from as far back as I can remember. Writing comes almost as naturally to me as breathing. There are volumes of journals on my shelves, stacks of poems, and reams of essays, articles, and plays with my name on them.

I write when I’m happy. I write when I’m sad. I write when I can’t decide which I am.

I write about hate. I write about love. I write when I can’t decide which I feel.

Writing is my therapy, my hobby, my vocation, my spiritual practice, and – if you boil me down to my very essence – you’ll find “writer” etched on my dna.

When I was preparing to make a major life choice and commit myself to my husband, I wrote and wrote and wrote until (and after) I said “I do”. Whenever I’ve been on the edge of something big, I write it out until I recognize what I want and need. When I was raped, I made my way to a group therapy session, but changed my mind and ended up writing and writing until a play emerged and (a few years later) my therapy-writing had morphed sufficiently into literary writing and appeared on stage. When my children were born, I wrote about all the ways they changed me, and I haven’t stopped writing since. When my son died, I wrote until hope started to appear on the horizon.

You could say I’m pretty confident about my skills as a writer. I believe it’s one of my gifts and that I do it quite well, so I don’t hesitate to share my writing – here on this blog and elsewhere. I’ve gotten jobs partly because of my writing skills. I’ve had stuff published. I’ve seen my plays produced on stage. I’ve heard my words in the speeches of influential government leaders. I know I can write.

Sometimes, that confidence slips into arrogance. When I look at things that are poorly written (some government documents, for example), I have been known to scoff at them. When those government officials have butchered the beauty out of speeches I’ve written, I may have rolled my eyes a time or two. When my employees, co-workers, or even my boss write things that aren’t up to par, I don’t hesitate to edit them, and – gulp – I may not always be very gracious about it.

But then there are also the deep hurts – the insecurity. The time in grade school when my brother and friend both won a trip to Regina for a writing contest and I was pretty sure my writing was as good as theirs. The time my friend Ian – who began writing plays in university because I had and it seemed like a good idea – went on to win the Governor General’s award (the highest literary award in Canada) for one of his plays. The many times I’ve held rejection letters in my hand. The time my first government report was returned covered in red ink. The times I’ve been hesitant to sign up for writing classes because “what if I’m not as good a writer as I think and somebody better exposes me as a fraud?” The times I’ve wondered why this blog doesn’t attract the readers that some of the big blogs do.

We are all complex human beings, aren’t we? Full of complex – and sometimes conflicting – stories that we use to define ourselves, full of truths and untruths that we hold in our hearts, full of self-love and self-hate.

How much of how we define ourselves and how we present ourselves in the world is simply the result of long held stories that aren’t necessarily true? How much of what ends up being my confidence, arrogance, or insecurity is the result of the things I internalize because of what I think others think about me and my abilities? How much do I limit God’s ability to bring beauty to the world through me by believing that I am not good enough?

A few days ago, I watched a short documentary of Nelson Mandela (on the 20th anniversary of his release from prison). The commentator said that Mandela had gone into prison a bitter and angry man, but the years in prison changed him and he began to realize he had to tell himself different stories if he wanted to emerge healthy and impactful. He had to shift from bitterness and anger to hope and forgiveness. He had to believe in his own strength and giftedness and the capacity of love to change the world if he hoped to see a shift in justice. He had to rise above what the naysayers and bigots were saying about him, loosen the hold they had on his life, and believe a different story could be true.

As we all know, those new stories reverberated far beyond Mandela’s own life to impact not only Africa but the whole world.

Can we, like Mandela, share hope, justice, and beauty, if we let different stories shape the way we face the world? Can we be leaders of change if we refuse to let the naysayers sway us from the path?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2010 7:22 am

    We certainly are complex: fearful yet brave, bold yet shy etc.

  2. February 15, 2010 8:37 am

    What a beautiful way to put this. I’m not sure I can even find the words to express myself right now.

    You have led a very deep and complex life and we are grateful for your ability to share your stories with us.

    May we all continue to find balance in the webs we weave!!

  3. February 15, 2010 10:09 am

    Ah! I had forgotten to change my notifications, and today during a quiet moment, I thought, “Why hasn’t Heather written lately?”

    And so now I have some catching up to do!

    Appreciated these thoughts, by the way. Can relate, though I still do not think of myself as a writer… why is that?

  4. February 15, 2010 6:30 pm

    This is an amazing post Heather…that I am speechless.

    Thank you.

  5. February 16, 2010 2:19 pm

    you are an amazing writer. you are an amazing, sharing, strong woman *doing* it all. never lose faith in your ability to impact those around you through yor writing. I am just getting to know you online, but what keeps me coming back is the way you write, the way you share, that way you connect. be confident, be humble, and you will continue to be that person you strive every day to be. i have faith in it!

  6. February 16, 2010 6:56 pm

    Heather, you sound perfectly human to me. I, like many others, can relate to your words. How often I have felt the arrogance and sense of superiority and then been cut down to the quick. So much I would like to say, but I’m a little hesitant as you have covered the gamut of feelings so well.

  7. February 16, 2010 7:54 pm

    I wish I would have kept writing thru the years. (and singing, an laughing, and ….)

  8. February 21, 2010 10:27 pm

    this resonates.
    thank you

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