When I was ten-years-old, my school had field day. I never liked school events. My parents never came to them, and seeing my peers with their families was a painful reminder of the distance between our worlds. I didn't want to participate. What was the point? I wouldn't win. But my teacher insisted, pointing at a gunnysack. I stepped into the bag and up to the starting line. BOOM. We were off. I didn't try very hard at first, but I realized I had a knack for jumping. I jumped further and faster, and further and faster, and before I knew it, I'd crossed the finish line. They pointed at me and called out,"Six." Six! That meant I'd made it into the next round. I was so excited I could hardly contain myself as I lined up with my classmates. They counted us and there was one too many kids, but they couldn't decide who didn't belong. The refs agreed to go ahead and run the race with thirteen, but I didn't care. I was six, I'd made it. This was a pivotal moment in my life. I'd tasted success, and it suited me. I was as taut as a bow and ready to pounce. The starting gun fired, and I had never moved more quickly. I pushed further and faster, further and faster, further and faster. Once again, I crossed the line and turned to look back. Everyone else had ate my dust.
You'd think the story would end there, right? It doesn't. I got to hold my pretty blue ribbon for about five minutes. An irate parent claimed that I had cheated, that her son was sixth place and I had no business participating in that race. She ripped the ribbon from my hands and nobody made a move to stop her including the ref who'd named me six. He just stared at his shoes and refused to meet my eyes as I begged him to tell her that I had belonged. This moment was also pivotal. Two conflicting life lessons in a single afternoon, and never raced in field day to win again.
I didn't share this experience to have you feel sorry for me. Many of us have gone through similar trials, but I needed to explain this event to put the rest of this post in perspective.
One year ago, I released my first novel. Hard to believe it's only been that long, yet in some ways it's still surreal. So much growth has taken place since that little girl held her ribbon, but the fear of winning has never really gone away. Most of the time, I keep it hidden. On the outside I project the embodiment of confidence. It's been easy enough for people to believe because I'm involved with some pretty amazing people, and together we've accomplished some pretty remarkable things. But the only reason anything happened in my career was because somebody'd pointed at me and said, "Six." Their faith gained me opportunities not always afforded to debut authors, and I worked my butt off. Pushing further and faster than ever before, I proved their confidence wasn't misplaced. But inside I was ten-years-old again, waiting for someone to take my ribbon. With each new triumph, my feelings of inadequacy grew more weighted, because there was always another race, another way to be assessed and show that I was lacking. The stress of becoming a failure ate holes in my stomach until finally I reached my breaking point. Something had to change. I couldn't continue living in fear of losing everything I'd worked so hard to gain, but how could I possibly fix a flaw so deeply rooted in my psychological make-up? I stepped back to reevaluate, and here's what I discovered:
1) Taking a ribbon from a child may seem heartless, but that wasn't the woman's perception. More than likely she been wounded herself, saw her child hurting, and thought she was doing the right thing. Which leads me to my next point.
2) If something like that happened to one of my kids, I'd totally kick some ass, and how does that make me any different? The problem wasn't the actual conflict, but the feeling of isolation and not having any kind of support.
3) In the end I was holding on to the loss of a piece of material.
Any kind of trophy is symbolic, not the actual victory. My priorities were all screwed up by emotional responses to experiences that needed to be viewed logically. Irrational feelings had allowed some stranger who probably didn't even remember what had happened the power to control to my life, not only in that moment but for many others over the past thirty years.
With this in mind I spent the past few weeks making some tough decisions. I walked away from current my publisher, and in turn he decided to close his doors. We parted amicably, and I will forever be grateful for the run we had together, but if fear hadn't been my motivator I would've left months ago. I let go of my ribbon, but I am no longer scared of what that means. You see, I've lined up lots of times over the past year, and I have many great people supporting me. Really, that's the important part of becoming successful in any endeavor--hard work and the ties that form between like-minded people.
So I'm starting a new race. I'm preparing to go further and faster than ever before, but this time I'm lining up for all the right reasons. I might gain a shiny publishing contract, land an agent, or decide to be indie. Any way, it doesn't matter. Winning the race is more important than how you get there. Regardless of my choice, what I've accomplished will forever be mine to keep.