Ninevah Must Fall, Jonah: On Fear of Success.
Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to fear. There are things in this life I am afraid of that, on the surface, make no sense. Fear is like this, it weaves and binds — insidious tendrils invade our minds and make us irrational.
Life has a way of jolting us, making us face our fears. Any big life event can create introspection, self-examination, planning, and reorganisation. In my own life, the last time such a change occurred I switched direction completely — getting divorced and eventually leaving behind the city I had called home for nearly ten years, living out in the wilds for an extended period, and returning to Scotland after far too long away.
It appears that 2015 will also be such a time of change.
I have used the last few years to hone my craft, write and rewrite, edit, redraft, shelve and write some more. I think it was Ray Bradbury who mentioned the million words it takes to become a writer, to find your own voice, although I have heard other people say this too.
Having time to practice something, over and over, polish, learn and relearn, is a great gift and a powerful undertaking. I am very grateful to those who have helped me during this time, those who have supported me and offered encouragement and understanding. Some of you may not even be aware of how much you actually do help.
I have always scribbled stories, penned poems and attempted novels, ever since I can remember. Recently I was reunited with some old work. For example, a tale from primary school simply titled “The Adventure” made me smile, as did those hundreds of handwritten pages (many in purple ink, for some reason), set in a world of my making and alternating tone and substance depending on which fantasy author I was reading at the time. Maps, languages, sketches and alphabets carefully dot the pages of my journals, or are rolled within cardboard tubes, guarded by resident generations of spiders, my world being all they know.
I dread (no, not really dread, of course not!) to think how many words of fiction I have crafted over my life; I am now thirty-eight, there are many. But it is only in the last five years that I have truly taken my writing seriously.
Not too long ago someone said to me they were surprised at how long I’d been working on the same material. Yet this isn’t really true. The material has altered, grown, been torn apart and stitched back together in new ways. It is like a jigsaw with thousands of pieces, many identical in shape — they can be fitted together, but the picture isn’t right. Moving from piece to piece, polishing, cutting, rewriting, discarding and destroying — all this has been good for me and my words.
Yet I do take the point; what have I to show for all this work? Outwardly, thus far, very little.
I can officially call myself a professional writer — if we define a professional writer as someone who has been paid for their words. I have sent off other pieces and still await a response. When, or if, they return unbought I will send them elsewhere. That is all a part of the writing game; I know this and it does not worry me. What is right for one magazine or publisher may not be what another is looking for. Fear of failure doesn’t apply here. Rejection is not failure, it is a step towards success. I do not fear failure.
But I do fear success.
For a long time I thought this was just me, something peculiar to my psyche, perhaps linked to anxiety or depression, or the shyness I can exhaustingly disguise through tremendous willpower. Introversion is a big part of who I am, yet even good friends have not realised that the extroverted façade I can apply from time to time is just that — make up, a mask, diversion and distraction. It needs recovery; I need recovery; it is wearying.
I am an excellent researcher. I can dig out facts and apply them. I read academic papers for fun. I love knowledge of many different flavours and origins. I want to know why something works in one way, or fails in another. I want to learn, constantly learn. I’m afraid I’m one of those people who would always choose Trivial Pursuit over nearly any other group game. Pub quizzes are a good night out. I was once banned from a pub quiz machine, as it was an easy £10 win, almost every time.
Yet it is only recently that I have started to dig into my own mind, to seriously look at what has made me who I am. I want to understand the cogs and gears and whirring things that make me happy, make me sad, make me frown, and make me laugh. To this end I have extended my reading and research to include the behavioural sciences. It intrigued me to learn of the Jonah complex and what a neat fit this is with my own issues.
As an example, I have been called arrogant before — yet this has always been misidentified by others. They have read the mask I have worn and believed it to be my face. They have seen my surety of a fact or argument and, because it does not tally with their own belief, misapplied the term. Thus, for a long time, I have been frightened of seeming arrogant; much better to hide away, the proverbial light under the bushel, than to shine as I could — and should — shine.
We are taught from a very young age that we must fit in, that we must not rock the boat, must not strive towards a goal we know to be the correct one, instead strive to follow the rules, to fit in to the system.
It is for these reasons that artists are still feared. Realising this fear is present is a step towards defeating it and, crucially, a step towards educating the fearful. We should all create. We should all shine.
There are moments in our lives when we stop, pause and wait — knowing something is happening, something is changing, but unable to work out what.
There are moments in our lives when we decide to move on, to make a difference in ways that previously felt insecure or even dangerous — “not for me”.
There are moments in our lives when we accept we are going to die — and realise that to do so without realising our full potential is, at best, idiotic. Spitting in the eye of life — why would we do this?
Yet we do, nearly all of us do. And those who accept their destiny (if you choose to call it that) are viewed as unusual. They are freaks who are either chained to their pedestal to be safely worshipped from afar, until the time comes to swap the platitudes for stones, or cut down from the start, the moment they reach above the crop (tall poppy syndrome).
Why would I choose to rock the boat? Why would I choose success, when anonymous failure is so much easier and, indeed, “normal”.
Why indeed. Yet change is coming, it has already started. I think the moment I read about the Jonah complex and related phenomena, such as impostor syndrome, I started on a journey that has but one end — and that end is success. It has to be, everything else is illogical.
I have always been a writer, ever since I could first hold a pencil I have recorded my stories. I cannot stop writing and have not been able to stop. Yet I have been able to keep my words hidden, shut up and cloistered, as I myself have mostly been for some years now. Breaking out of one self-made prison goes hand-in-hand with the other.
I will return to this subject again, look at what direction I am taking my life — and how I intend to achieve this success. It is time I did my best, a best which I know will be good enough. We live in times unparallelled, the options available to those who create are greater than ever before. There is no reason to fail, unless we choose to. And I don’t.