I’ll admit it… I’m neurotic. I’m never good enough. There’s always someone better.
I was watching an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee – have you seen this show? Jerry was having coffee with Jimmy Fallon and part of their conversation stopped me in my tracks. It went something like this:
Jerry: “Do you ever wake up and think ‘I can’t get in front of these people’?”
Jerry: “How close to when the curtain goes up and you walk out do you think ‘I don’t think I can do this’?”
Jimmy: “Right up until it opens.”
That’s when I paused the show. Paused it right there and hit rewind. Listened again (I had to have heard it wrong). Jimmy Fallon – The Jimmy Fallon – doubts his talent, his ability, every night before that curtain goes up?
Hearing this validated all my feelings. It gave me a huge sense of relief. I’m not alone! Someone as talented – and happy – as Jimmy Fallon feels the same way I do?
And then it occurred to me that maybe we all feel like we’re faking it sometimes. Then again, maybe it’s this neuroses that makes me a decent writer. Maybe it’s because I’m so worried that someone will think my writing is horrible or find out that I’m just a big fake – that drives me to push myself to write better, spend more time digging for the right quotes, stats, research, to understand my audience, to get it right. Of course, Jimmy can’t project that. Neither can I. And neither should you. No one wants to hire a professional who doesn’t believe in herself. It’s part of why we watch Jimmy. He’s confident but completely unassuming. He’s happy but completely devoid of ego. Jerry describes him as “a lightbulb suspended from thin air.” And it’s true. The guy is just… light.
But the thing is, he’s doing exactly what he was meant to do. And that’s why he’s light. In that conversation with Jerry, Jimmy goes on to say that once the curtain opens, he knows “this is exactly where I should be.”
Being nervous or worried – or even a bit neurotic – has nothing to do with happiness, or knowing you’re on the right path.
Start with love.
I was 30 years old and two years shy of my Bachelor’s Degree when I decided to go back to school. I’d spent five years in marketing and really enjoyed it, but on the account side there’d been a lot of late nights and traveling. Not a great fit for a mom with two young boys. All I knew for sure is that I wanted my college degree.
I made an appointment with a counselor at Webster University to choose a major. With my background in marketing, we started there, but the classes didn’t thrill me. There was just something missing. I must have looked a bit defeated, because the counselor closed the book and leaned forward.
“Let’s back up,” she said to me. “Forget where you’ve been and what you know. What do you love?”
“What do you love to do?” she prompted me. When my blank stare didn’t go away she prodded on. “If you could do anything in the world, what would it be?”
This time, she got me. I answered immediately, without thinking. “Write. I’d write.”
“Really?” she leaned back, smiling.
“Well, yes,” I stammered, needing to explain my foolish response. “I love to write, but you can’t major in writing.”
“Sure you can.”
She opened the catalog to the English department. And there under “Writing as a Profession” was a list of classes I couldn’t have dreamed up any better: Writing for Advertising, Editorial Writing, Business Writing, Sports Journalism, Entertainment Journalism, Creative Fiction. The list went on and on. I signed up for my first semester then and there. And walked out clutching the course book, tears in my eyes.
At the time, I didn’t know what I’d do with a writing degree. But I knew I’d chosen the right path. I knew I was starting with my truth. With love.
Maybe you don’t know where it will take you. Maybe no one thinks it’s possible. But I find we work harder at the things we really believe in. When we’re proud of the work we’re doing, we take more time, put more of ourselves into it. It’s akin to artists. But it doesn’t have to just apply to creative careers.
My older brother was what we affectionally called a “computer geek” back in the 80s (remember the movie “Weird Science”?). He had a Commodore 64 and he used to sit in his room creating programs that made the screen write your name over and over –or whatever. He built a modem to talk to the neighbor across the street. From a young age, computers were his passion. He still writes computer programs – now he gets paid to do it.
While he was in his room tapping away to the sounds of Def Leppard and INXS, I was down the hall listening to Michael Jackson and Madonna, writing in my diary and journals… I’d make up short stories, write lyrics to songs, poems and letters. And when I wasn’t writing, I was reading every book I could get my hands on. I’m still reading. And writing. Now I’m getting paid for it.
So no matter how nervous you get just before the curtain goes up, or turn in your manuscript, or give that presentation or present a new product… whatever… take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are exactly where you should be.
And if you’re not? If you’re unhappy in your career, if you don’t look forward to Monday mornings? Think back to those years when you could choose how to wile away a day. And ask yourself what that college counselor asked me:
If you could do anything in the world… what would it be?