This week, I experienced writer’s block for the first time.
I sat down—multiple times—to write my weekly blog post, and I couldn’t bring myself to start typing. I panicked—multiple times—but then I decided to follow my own advice and take a breath or two.
A few breaths in, I realized, I did have words inside of me. Plenty of them. But the words inside of me were simply refusing to exit through my fingertips, as they usually do. There wasn’t an absence of words; there was an abundance of stubborn words.
No, not stubborn words, scared words.
For instance, I wanted to write a blog post about the month of March in our family, in which my son acted in his first community theater play and my wife ran for the school board and I published my first book. I wanted to write about how success is unrelated to ticket sales or book sales or vote counts. Success is about making our true self our lived self, regardless of who shows up to applaud.
But the truth is, my son’s show was sold out, my wife won her election, and my book debuted as a #1 New Release on Amazon, and I feared people would think me arrogant to speak so publicly of my family’s good fortune.
I wanted to write another post about grief and how our anticipation of death—and loss in general—usually takes the form of anxiety. I wanted to write about how we defend against that anxiety by becoming angry and becoming certain we know how to solve the mess of life (please see Facebook). We need to quit resisting our inevitable losses and, instead, grieve our losses ahead of time, so we can get on with truly living.
But I feared no one would want to read something so morbid over their Wednesday morning coffee.
I wanted to write another post about how we’re all making it up as we go. I wanted to write about how we all fear we’re an imposter, but of course we’re all imposters. The problem isn’t being an imposter, it’s believing we’re the only one. Because once we discover that we’re all making it up as we go, we are free to reveal ourselves, be who we truly are, and find authentic connection and belonging.
But I feared the ramifications of a published author and clinical psychologist admitting that he is still trying to figure it all out. (Apparently, this fear never goes away, no matter how many times you overcome it.)
So my words remained trapped inside of me, a huddled mass of fear and hiddenness.
A few breaths in, though, I knew what I needed to do. I needed to embrace my fear, not by writing one of those three blog posts—at least not this week—but by writing about the fear itself.
Because once you’ve embraced that it’s okay to be afraid—once you know that being scared is ordinary and inevitable and there’s no reason to be ashamed of it—fear loses its power to keep you captive. Which is why one of the most powerful things you can do is tell someone that you are afraid.
So, what if today you reached out to someone you trust and said, “I have dreams trapped inside of me. But my dreams are afraid. I have a whole huddled mass of lovely longings and holy desires and purposeful passions hunkered down inside of me, and I’m not sure how to set them free.” What would happen? I think I know what would happen.
They’d start to come loose. Leak out. Sneak through. Run free.
You see, the problem is not that we don’t know what we want to do with our life; the problem is that we don’t know what other people want us to do with our life.
The problem is not that we don’t know which direction to head; the problem is that there are usually many good directions to head, and we can usually think of at least one person who would disapprove of each one.
In Loveable I write,
Several years ago, hospice nurse Bronnie Ware posted online a list of the top regrets of her dying patient. The number one regret was this: ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.’ The list went viral. Why? Because her patients are fading echoes of the voice of grace—that still, small voice—within each of us, urging us to quit doing the things we think we should do with our life, and to start doing the things we want to do with our life.
A few breaths in, I started listening to the voice of grace again. Want to join me?
Because remember, success is what happens when you make your true self your lived self.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.