Monday, October 24, 2016

I quit writing in college because no one taught me that you can love something, but have to work to be good at it

I have 2 going on 3 kids. (The 'going on' kid is due in December) and I walk a fine line between expecting them to excel (the crazy, over-achiever Caribbean mom in me...) and also understanding that they need room -- lots and LOTS of room -- to experiment, explore and fail. Because, when I was 19, I gave up on an entire career path because I did not recognize that failing at something initially is not a sign that you should give up on it completely.

I studied Communication in college (yes, I am one of those people who've known what field they wanted to be in since childhood), but my initial interest was in the entertainment side. I wanted to be a TV and film writer. But in classes I was always really good at the more theoretical side of communication. I aced all my classes on media theory, things like detecting hidden messages in advertising, or following box office trends.

Writing -- although it was my true passion -- was a lot harder. After finishing my Communication pre-reqs, I ventured into what felt like shakier ground. I took a narrative writing class, and a film direction class.

The narrative writing class was nerve wracking. Not only did we have to write essays weekly, we also had to read them in front of the class. I sat at my dorm room desk agonizing over what to say -- wondering how honest I could be in my storytelling and whether my true voice was good enough. My tortured process likely showed up in my essays. On presentation day I sunk into my desk as students with way more natural ability than me got up and read gorgeous essay after gorgeous essay. On one occasion my heart sank when a race joke I'd written didn't land and was met with coughs and nervous laughter. I got a B in the class. Which -- for a Type A overachiever like me -- qualified, at the time, as failure.

That was my first and last time attempt at honing my narrative writing skills. I fared better in my film direction class. My final project -- a film I had to write, shoot and edit -- actually got an A. But in my 19-year-old mind the "failure" of my narrative writing experience overrode the score from my film class.

A couple years later I graduated college, broke into Chicago's journalism industry and hid in it for a few years, rationalizing that I could still tell stories -- just using real people and events as the subjects and circumstances. I started a hair blog as a hobby and, when it blew up, quit to work on it full time. And now I'm here.

If I could go back in time I would gently hold myself by the shoulders, stare myself in the face and say, "You are NOT bad at this! And so what if you are. All it means is that you have to learn and grow. And now is the perfect time to learn and grow -- when you have no primary obligations to anyone but yourself."

These days I do think about writing again. My life has become so filled with work and family and personal development that it is hard to find that time. But when I do pick up a pen again I know I won't allow myself to be restricted by the idea that my efforts aren't good enough.

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