It was late spring in 2009 when my phone rang in the edit room at The Oprah Show where I had been a Post Producer for several years. As I glanced at the phone number, I remarked to the editor, “Mm. I wonder who’s calling me from New York?”
It was my literary agent telling me there was an offer on my book. My reaction? Pure panic. I recall thinking, these exact words, “I can’t write a book! I’m not a writer!”
Sure, I’d submitted a book proposal to the agent months before, but I didn’t actually expect it to sell, did I? Frankly, no. I convinced myself that the opportunity to write the proposal was just some random thing that had happened. I would never actually have to write a book. Just crafting the proposal was scary enough. I didn’t see myself as a writer. And that was the very thing that almost held me back.
Because those 5 words “I can’t…” and “I’m not a…” are powerful, and very, very limiting.
How we see ourselves, and our capabilities, is often referred to as a comfort zone. That sounds innocuous enough. But in my experience, comfort zones can have very high walls, keeping us trapped in what feels safe and familiar. And ultimately they stop us from growing.
Yet grow we must.
Life isn’t about standing still. Sure, there are times – years, maybe – where “safe and familiar” works just fine. And then we start to feel a little uncomfortable, like we’re outgrowing our lives. It reminds me of a nautilus, living inside a shell within a safe chamber, until it becomes too small and constricting. Then it must leave that space behind and build a larger one. And so it goes throughout its lifetime.
That brings me back to those 5 words that almost held me back, that almost prevented me from writing a book – those powerful words that almost prevented me from becoming a best selling author: “I can’t…” and “I’m not a…”
Yet there is one little sentence that has the potential to diffuse those limiting words.
Just because “I can’t” do something today doesn’t mean I can’t stumble my way through it. Just because “I’m not a such and such” doesn’t mean I’m not capable of figuring it out. Who says we have to be an expert at something before we’ve even tried it?
Actually I know who says it. We do. We are the ones who hold ourselves back. Especially when it comes to something that is grounded in creativity and self-expression. Sure, some of us may have naysayers in the background, but they don’t have much control over us unless we give over our own power to them.
Because here’s the thing.
I wasn’t a writer. That was true. Until I sat down at my computer just about every day for more than six months, while working at least 6 days a week at the Oprah show, and I wrote. And I learned the simple truth that writing makes you a writer. The magic, the escape from those 5 words, is in the doing.
Sure, I get it that when you think of being a writer you compare yourself to someone who is already published – most likely a well known, bestselling author. And you think to yourself, “Yes but, he’s published. She writes bestsellers.” Okay, but what were they before they were known and respected for their work? I bet they doubted themselves too. They probably faced resistance and insecurity. But they kept going. And they got better. Ultimately they got attention and acclaim. But long before they were acknowledged by others as being writers they were writing. On their own. With no one’s permission.
If you feel called to be a writer, stop telling yourself you’re not one, or you can’t write. Sit down and do something about it. Write a blog, self-publish a book, or go out and pitch literary agents until you accept the fact that whether you get an agent or not, you are a writer if you write regularly. But most importantly, take action.
And this doesn’t just apply to professional callings. So if you want to be a painter, go out and buy some paints, brushes and canvas and create something. If you want to garden, head to the local plant nursery, find some vegetables or flowers that feel right to you and put them in the ground behind your house, or in a planter box on your balcony. And tend to them, regularly. And those seeds may grow into a fun experiment, a beloved hobby, or a professional calling. It doesn’t matter yet. What matters is that you plant the seeds.
In all of these examples, there will be failures. You will learn from your writing, from your painting, from the seeds you plant. That is how you truly become what you want to be. You learn from the doing, from the failing, from the joy that is waiting for you just outside your comfort zone.
Make a promise today. Next time those life-limiting words – “I’can’t” and “I’m not a” creep in, let them be denied. Instead, let your dreams be given space to grow and flourish, not in a zone of comfort, but in one of possibilities.
Be inspired by the nautilus, whose own personal growth story produces a shell of incredible beauty, a testament to what life can look like when you push the boundaries and expand into the destiny that awaits you.
P.S. What action are you going to take today to expand into the life of possibilities that awaits you? Please share below in the comments.