When Will I Learn?

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My writing often follows a particular pattern. I start out eager and excited, charged up and ready to go. I have a ton of ideas, and I feel like nothing in the world can stop me. Then I sit down to write. At first, it’s great. I think that at long last, I’ve found peace and comfort in my craft, that at long last, I’ve conquered self-doubt and am no longer overly concerned about getting it one hundred percent correct the first time around.

Then a few weeks into the cycle, self-doubt returns, at first just a creeping vine that tickles the periphery of my mind, warning me to be more careful, that I don’t want to make too many mistakes, that if people are ever going to take me seriously as an author I have to be more conscious of what I’m doing. Caution soon gives way to concern, and before long concern gives way to self-criticism and despair. Before I know what’s happened, I find myself once more stuck in the mud, with a blog that hasn’t been updated for over a month and books and short stories that haven’t been touched for nearly as long.

When I finally find the courage to come back up for air and try again, I discover that some of those who were interested in what I was doing had left, not because they’d stopped supporting me but because I had given up, because I had shown them through my actions that I had nothing left to share. In giving in to my fear of failure, I had failed. I had prophesied my own doom, then unwittingly made it come true.

I’ve made this mistake countless times before. Each time, I promised myself that I would never make it again, that this time things would be different. And still, before long, I find myself here once more.

When will I ever learn?

It’s okay to make mistakes.

It really is. Everyone makes them. That’s part of what it is to be human. The only way not to make mistakes is to sit in a dark corner of your room alone and do nothing. If you want to put yourself out there, if you want to connect with other people, if you want to change the world, you’re going to have to fail. Failure is a precursor to success, and you must be willing to face it daily if you’re ever to have a serious hope of making a difference.

But what if I make a bad impression?

Every time I tell myself it’s okay to make mistakes, this is the next doubt that enters my mind. What if others witness my failure? What will they think? Will they ever take me seriously again? The answer, I’ve discovered through experience, is that some will, and some won’t.

And that’s okay.

You’re not going to please everybody. Some people will love what you do, and others will hate it. Some will notice your mistakes, and others won’t. Some will support you in spite of them, and others will walk away.

Let them.

If somebody walks away from you because you made a mistake, then either they had unrealistic expectations or they were never very interested in what you were doing from the start. So why spend so much energy worrying about their opinion? Focus instead on doing what you love, what brings you joy and passion, on what gives meaning to your existence.

Don’t worry about what other people think. Those who resonate with your message will hear your authentic passion-infused voice and support you, and those who don’t don’t matter.

It’s really that simple.

And yet, it’s not…

The concept itself is easy enough to grasp. Do what you love and don’t let others get in your way. Be bold. Make mistakes. But when it’s time to actually put this philosophy into practice, most of us, myself included, fall flat on our faces. Every. Single. Time.

Self-doubt is a powerful force. It’s the demon that whispers in your head whether you’re awake or you’re asleep, that assaults you with softly-spoken assurances of failure and condemnation, that promises you the everlasting Hell of ridicule and humiliation should you even think of trying.

You must not listen to it.

Shun this evil force with all your strength, lest it hold you back from what you love for the rest of your Earthly life. Whenever you hear its voice, you must drown it out, not with shallow and vainglorious self-assurances of success, but with a realistically optimistic outlook rooted not in the opinions of others but in the fulfillment of your life’s purpose.

Each and every one of us has one, a reason for being, a mission to accomplish, and we can only achieve what we were created to do when we let go of our incessant need for approval and boldly step forward into the unknown.

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Can I Hear the Voices of the Dead?

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Humans have long been fascinated by the idea that they could somehow speak with the dead. Most of us feel connected to them in one way or another, and we often ache for the chance to reunite. There are grieved lovers who want another chance to say goodbye; students who seek advice from deceased mentors; family members who yearn to make amends for past wrongs. Whatever our reasons, this craving for a continued relationship with our predecessors seems to be built into our DNA.

More than once, I’m sure you’ve thought, “if only I could hear the voices of the dead.” Well, what if I told you that you could?

Books are the answer.

When we read, our ancestors speak to us once more. Though death may have taken them, their voices remain with us in all that they’ve written, indelibly etched into the edifice of time. Books are the means by which we learn from our genealogical, intellectual and spiritual progenitors, as well as how we ourselves communicate with future generations, ensuring that whatever we learn during our ephemeral Earthly existence will never be lost.

They’re the voices of wise parents and teachers, telling us that our struggles were once theirs. They give us advice, and they teach us how to deal with our problems so that we won’t have to suffer the same mistakes.

They’re the voices of friends and lovers, who bestow comfort and hope in times of distress. They remind us through their stories — some joyful and others tragic — of how to love and how to feel. They teach us how to weather the storm of life, and in the midst of a world that often seems harsh, cold and uncaring, they help us understand that life is always worth living, and that everything happens for a reason.

They’re the voices of scientists, poets and philosophers, perpetuating beauty and knowledge from age to age so that both might never be lost. They whisper to us in the dark corners of our bedrooms and offices after hours, so that we too might be privy to whatever secrets they discovered before their Earthly journeys were complete.

In death, you too can speak to the living.

Just as your ancestors left behind their own voices, so too can you leave yours, so that when your appointed time comes, future generations will still be able to learn from the wisdom you attained in life.

Don’t have time to write a book? Don’t worry about it. Keep a journal. Freewrite for five minutes about your thoughts and feelings. Write letters to friends and family. Your words need not be formally compiled, edited and published by a major press. Some of our most treasured literary artifacts were those that were penned or spoken informally, passed down from teachers to students, parents to children or between friends and lovers.

Our ancestors will always be with us.

In books, we discover that the voices of those who’ve died persist, teaching, exorting, comforting, encouraging, continuing to dwell among each and every one of us. They give us hope for the future, and when we have hope for the future, we feel compelled to offer up our own wisdom, which we pray will be useful to those who come after us.

The next time you want to reconnect with someone from the past, don’t wait until your own demise to be with them. Just pick up a book and read.

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