How Joy Becomes Fear

Several years ago, my husband took me to a driving range to hit some golf balls. It was the first time I’d ever picked up a club that didn’t belong to a putt-putt course and after he’d given me a few pointers, I still didn’t really know what I was doing. Nevertheless, I stood over the tee, swung with abandon, and hit several straight, long drives.

“You’re a natural,” he’d said, impressed.

A few weeks later, he bought me a set of clubs as an early birthday gift and by then I had read books and blog articles about stance and grip and etiquette. I’d watched online videos detailing correct follow-through and technique. And after practicing driving, chipping, and putting with my new clubs, I felt ready to tackle an actual course.

We headed out to a 9-hole, par 35 course for what I thought would be a relaxing few hours in the sunshine. It was anything but. I didn’t hit a single ball in the air. Not one. Everything I took a swing at either rolled two inches off the tee simply from the wind of my completely off-target whiff or drove a worm burning path ten yards down the fairway. I was frustrated and confused. How had all my studying resulted in a back slide of this magnitude? In hindsight, I can see that in my eagerness to learn how to succeed, I had also inadvertently absorbed the myriad ways to fail.

I had a similar experience when I started writing. I’d been naïvely optimistic in the beginning. Fearless. If there was a goal to go after, I took a swing at it. I thought it would be fun to write for the local newspaper, so without any paid publishing credits to my name, I sent an unsolicited email to the editor asking him to consider me for a columnist position. (I still cringe when I read that email).

Fortunately, he was a gracious man. He said he didn’t have an opening for a paid freelance columnist, but he did often print what he called citizen columns—submissions from local writers for no pay, just glory. I jumped at the opportunity, pumping out at least one personal column a week, which he then published as promised. I was thrilled to see my name in print and even though I wasn’t getting paid, I considered the exposure good publicity for the online writing business I was working to build.

It was also around that same time that I began to get the notion to write a novel and much like my first foray into golfing, I dove into the project with no real knowledge as to what I was doing. I wrote without concern for genre or audience or structure. I didn’t worry about attracting agents or publishers or readers. But at some point, I decided if I actually did intend to publish this novel, it would be beneficial to learn about these things, so I started acquiring resources. I bought how-to books, subscribed to magazines, and studied craft. I attended a writer’s conference and armed myself with what I thought were the necessary tools of the trade.

I was wrong again. And again all of my research resulted in decline rather than improvement. Like my golf game, my writing suffered. I became so obsessed with doing everything right—using the right process, finding the right words—that I lost the blissful ignorance that had gotten me excited about writing in the first place. In my attempt to become well-versed in the art of writing, I had unleashed the nastiest form of resistance that keeps many of us from ever reaching our goals: Fear.

Now, I’m not saying that some amount of preparedness and knowledge of the basic rules of the game aren’t essential elements—and in some cases, even absolute requirements—for success. But I do think inundating yourself with too much information right at the start can be more detrimental than helpful.

If you’re facing down a goal or want to pick up a new hobby, learn enough to get started, but then give yourself the freedom to embrace some of the child-like obliviousness that comes with being a beginner. Swing the golf club without worrying about how Tiger does it. Start writing without concerning yourself with Stephen King’s process. Figure out what works for you and go at your own pace, because getting ahead of where you are is the surest way to turn joy into fear.

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