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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Shirking the spotlight is a bad habit

Last Friday night we had a terrific party for my husband's 40th birthday. Plenty of family, friends and neighbors came out to celebrate with him and he soaked up every moment of the night. Afterward, he and my sister started talking about my impending 40th birthday.

While Danny is purely at home in the center of the action, pouring drinks from behind the bar, yukking it up with old friends and making everyone from an 85-year-old man to our newest friends feel as if they are the most important person in the world to him, I'm more of a peripheral partier. I'm an observer of the action. He's a larger-than-life personality, not in the least self-conscious about who he is and what he stands for. I'm the person who starts to say something but will back off if I can't seem to get anyone's attention. While he's surrounded by people who have known him all his life, I have only my family to share that experience.

There are times when I can be the gregarious hostess. I can play that part. I've done it hosting parties and I've done it professionally. But it only feels natural if I'm working behind the scenes. After nearly 20 years together, I think Danny's just starting to understand that about me. He kept asking if I had a chance to talk to this person and that person. Honestly, the evening flew by and I feel as if I hardly had the chance to talk to anyone, except for my sister whom I was so glad to have by my side.

Sure I love to be in a crowd and surrounded by friends. But I cringe when the spotlight swings to me. So when talk turned to my 40th I listened and laughed as the two of them planned on my behalf. It wasn't until later on Sunday night that I told Danny that I don't want a party. I don't mean to be a spoilsport. And it's not that I don't want to celebrate such a milestone. Our trip to Ireland is gift enough for me.

It's just that I'm not comfortable in the spotlight.

I'm one of those kids from school who people knew of but didn't really know well. To some degree, I'm still that person. I keep a distance and I'm really not sure why. Perhaps being the victim of mean girls has a longer-lasting effect than I thought. Or maybe my journalistic sensibilities cause me discomfort at being the focus, the story if you will.

I mention this not because I'm proud of this trait, but because I feel it is a great weakness. As a writer, I should want more of the spotlight, I should want to call attention to my work, to what I have to say. But I think I very nearly sabotage certain kinds of work out of fear of the white hot light.

Is it because I'm uncomfortable with myself? With who I am as a person? Is it because I feel unqualified? A fraud? Is it because I fear exposure? The answer is all of those things. Just when I think I'm making progress, I realize how much I hold back—still.

I've got a lot of stories -- some essays, some books, some articles -- in my head. Why don't I write them? Why don't I get them out? I've got my ASJA application half completed. Why don't I finish it? Because I might get rejected? They might not want me?

Some pitches need following up, so why do I keep putting that off? Because they're not good enough? I'm not smart enough? Pathetic!

So many times I've told writers that they have to move beyond self-doubt. That it's unproductive and paralyzing to their careers to stay static. And yet here I sit with ideas everywhere, but going nowhere.

With 2006 coming to an end, I took time to pull together a file of information labeled, "2006 Taxes." Financially, 2006 was my best year yet. But that's never been my measure of success. Instead, that review was a much-needed exercise in understanding what I've accomplished. Here's a brief list:

-- book manuscript on chronic pain/pain management
-- centennial book on Judson at University Circle
-- two large Web projects (one local; one national)
-- first piece in major national magazine
-- interviews/profiles of some of my favorite journalists
-- first place award for religion coverage for Thomas Merton article
-- in-depth narrative on education reform
-- interviews with curator from Israel Museum, Archbishop of Jerusalem, St. Francis scholars, cathedral historians, Sudanese refugees, German exchange students
-- spoken to fiction writers, high school and college journalism students, professional journalists on leadership and freelance writing and spoke to a religious group about Thomas Merton
-- spoke to journalists visiting from Russia, Moldova and Africa about Judith Miller and federal shield law
-- traveled professionally to Indianapolis (several times), Chicago, Alabama, Ohio University, Cincinnati, Columbus (several times) to share what I know and believe about journalism

So why all the angst, Wendy? Once the calendar turns, you're in your 40th year. Quit acting like an insecure child and become the person your inner writer is screaming to be!


Kelly Boyer Sagert said...

You write: I've got my ASJA application half completed. Why don't I finish it? Because I might get rejected? They might not want me?

Do it!!! I've partially filled out an ASJA application at least half a dozen times and, finally, on Monday, I emailed it over. Worst case scenario is that I (you!) will lose $25 if told no.

Do it . . .

Connie said...

Wendy, as someone who has spent the last year living out of her comfort zone, I can tell you that acting brave before you feel it can really help to get you there. It's OK to feel fearful even as you embark -- the leap is everything. I am reminded of what two-time Pulitzer winner and writing guru Jon Franklin told me six years ago: "If you're never scared, you've stopped trying." Changed my writing -- and my life.

You are so ready for this leap.

Connie Schultz

Wendy Hoke said...

Thanks, Kelly. I'm working on my application today.

Wendy Hoke said...

Connie, you always seem to know just when to pop into my life. Thank you, as always, for your wise words and support.

K-Oh said...

I think all writers are surrounded by a sea of ideas and inclinations, only some of which are acted upon. How could it be otherwise-- we need to select from plenty, not dearth. But I think it means we all--except for an amazing few-- feel we're not doing enough. I almost always feel this way.

I think your list of things done-- as compared to our staggering lists of things to be done-- is a great idea. Maybe I'll make one myself. Thanks, W!

Wendy Hoke said...

K -- You are so right about never feeling we're doing enough -- and about those staggering "to do" lists. This week is particularly bad. But I'm managing a little at a time. I finally got my ASJA application finished and I'm on my way to mail it now. Thanks for your help and encouragement, K!

Jill said...

Wonderful expression of what so many of us feel, Wendy. :) Be proud of every part of you, because they're what make up your sum, which is a fabulous sum indeed.

Wendy Hoke said...

Thanks, pal. You're friendship and support are very important to me.