On insecurity

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Today I would like to tell you about an article I read in The New Yorker. I would like to tell you, without resorting to cliche, how the article struck a chord in me; but I’ve just used the phrase “struck a chord in me.” (Having spent far too long trying to think of a better phrase.) The article, “Lessons from My Mother,” was written by James Wood, a lovely, reflective piece about, as you’ve guessed, his mother, who passed away not so long ago. His mother was a teacher, beloved by her students, a force to behold in the classroom, charismatic, quirky, entertaining, empathetic; and yet she disliked her job, even hated it, or so James Wood thought, when he was a child. Upon reflection, after her death, he came to believe that his mother strongly disliked teaching, and yet was powerfully, “helplessly,” drawn to the profession, that it was her true vocation, even if she was tormented by nerves and anxiety as she prepared for her classes. It was almost as if she had a form of stage fright, or crippling self-doubt, which she dealt with by preparing relentlessly, obsessively (locking herself in the bathroom to cram before classes). Yet she never quit teaching. She threw herself in.

Deep.

Why did this essay — or more precisely, this tiny tangent within the larger essay — strike a chord? For a chord was struck, strongly, and not just because I read the article standing in the bathroom, as I read most articles (no one bothers you when you’re standing behind a closed bathroom door, as James Wood’s mother could have told you) — it was his mother’s insecurity, her lack of confidence, that drew my attention. I keep returning to this insight, like it’s a revelation: that a person doesn’t have to love or even like what she does to be drawn to doing it; that a person may not love or even like her vocation, the very work she’s meant to do.

I’m drawn to doing work that makes me nervous, anxious, that taps on my insecurities like it’s tapping on rotten roots, especially when I’m preparing for it. I think we have a cultural obsession with loving what we do — as if the ultimate Life goal is to strive for work that only rewards you with good things, in which case, anxiety or nerves are giant red flags — you’re doing the wrong thing! Look elsewhere! Reading about James Wood’s mother gives me peace of mind. A person may fear doing the very thing she is put on this earth to do. A person may fear that which draws her like a magnet. But a person still recognizes her purpose, and her duty, and simply gets on with it.

xo, Carrie

Morning has broken
Writing adventures ahead

4 Comments

  1. I love this. It chimes with something else I read recently, against our prioritization/breathless pursuit of “being happy” all the time. Discovering what we’re good at – which might be different from what we love doing most – and contributing something to the world…these are arguably greater goals.

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  2. I had somewhat thought about the division between what makes a person happy and what is best for them, but tbh only on a small scale, like making kids practice boring swimming drills instead of fun water games. Or when telling myself to keep writing instead of playing games myself.

    But I never really thought about it on a wide scope like this. I feel like I had assumed that eating vegetables was the right thing because we’ll be “happier” later on in life, due to improved physique or whatever — but that’s not really true, is it? Or rather — even if it is true, that shouldn’t be the point, should it?

    I want to share this idea with everyone now because I really feel like there are a ton of people who feel like they “shouldn’t” go for things because they’re not 100% excited about it — but that’s not a prerequisite, and I feel a little shocked that I hadn’t thought about that until now.

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    • AC, I meant to reply ages ago. I love when an idea really clicks. It’s strange how we conflate personal enthusiasm with calling (or fear/anxiety with the message that something isn’t for us). The idea that you might just have to recognize your purpose and get on with it, regardless of how it makes you feel, does seem like a radical thought, even as I’m typing this out now. Of course, I love many of the things I’ve chosen to do, but some of the most rewarding have also been things that took me ages to figure out I loved doing, or that continue to challenge me. I wouldn’t have ever tried teaching if I hadn’t pushed through fear. It still takes me out of my comfort zone, which can be nerve-wracking, but it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be doing it. I hope you’re having an excellent term … and writing lots …

      Reply
  3. This feels so true to me. What I find most fulfilling is often what fills me with fear and self-doubt as I prepare for it. I have taken a few terrifying leaps that have landed me where I am now – feeling like I’m doing what I was meant to do. The challenge is, now that I’m in my 50s, to continue to leap, to take creative and personal risks, to feel alive.

    Reply

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