You wouldn’t believe what an excellent track record I have in not disappointing people.
I like to think it’s because I try hard to be a half-decent person. But what if it’s the consequence of pathology? A damaged neurological wiring that causes me to default into doing anything to avoid the ire or displeasure of others?
I hate to be hated – whether it’s personal (in the way breaking someone’s heart, not being the friend someone wants you to be or holding certain opinions about Trump or Harvey Weinstein is) or impersonal (given inherited and chosen identities – being Jewish, white, privileged, a feminist and the like).
But despite this, I don’t want to be so likeable as to be universally liked.
Such popular appeal makes us boring. If people can’t see our shadow because we’re hiding it, we’re doling out palatable versions of ourselves in search of likes, follows, retweets and invitations to dinner parties. That’s when we’re exactly the sort of person I don’t want to be.
I’d truly rather be thought of as a harridan than a ‘sweet person,’ have lunch with a lunatic than a ‘good guy,’ hear a sex worker talk than a life coach. I’m well over playing safe, hedging my bets and fence-sitting (sorry about that trio of clichés). I want to be the weather – to affect peoples’ temperature – one way or the other. As writers, artists, creators, lukewarm is as good as no reaction. We have to know how to turn people on, as well as off.
The fastest way to polarize people is to learn to say NO.
No, I don’t like Jane Austen.
No, I don’t eat animals.
No, I can’t speak at your event.
No, I don’t like your skull tattoo.
Thanks, but no thanks.
Joanne Fedler is an internationally bestselling author of 10 books, writing mentor and publisher. In the past seven years, she’s facilitated 12 writing retreats all over the world, mentored hundreds of writers (both face to face and in her online writing courses), set up her own publishing company, Joanne Fedler Media, and published four debut authors (with many lined up to follow). She’s passionate about publishing midlife memoirs and knows how to help people succeed in reaching their goal to become a published author.
I have crazy-high standards of myself. They’ve served me well in the past – they got me a Fulbright scholarship, a Yale law degree, ten published books, an online business, a publishing company …but they are also the source of my suffering. Anything short of excellence, impeccable execution and over-delivery feels like devastating failure to me. When I show up, I do it drag-queen style – all in, hyper-enthusiastic; dazzling. After I’ve done my thing, I want to leave you breathless.
I am not surprised (just annoyed) that my body has conspired to teach me how to let myself and others down. When I prolapsed a disc eight weeks ago, I didn’t realise I’d need months and months to recover. I figured (as I did after giving birth to my daughter by Caesarean and flying to Cape Town 6 weeks later with her at my breast to make a presentation in Parliament), that I’d fix it quickly and get back to business as soon as possible.
But my body isn’t having any of it. It’s refusing to give me a single clue about when I will be ‘back to myself .’ It’s buggered up all my plans for the year. It’s forced me to let down three writers who wanted Joanne Fedler Media to publish their books – I’ve had to pass them on to other publishers. That has hurt.
It almost made me postpone my long-awaited Midlife Memoir workshop in mid-March. Through tears I wrote – but did not send an email to the ten writers who’d paid, booked tickets and accommodation letting them know I wouldn’t be able to go ahead. It felt like breaking up with someone who has only been good to me (not that I’m even good at breaking up – I’m still in friendly contact with every boyfriend I ever had.)
But once I’d sat down with what it feels like to disappoint others, something weird happened. I suddenly saw how I could do it – just in a different way: without over-delivering; over-preparing or overwhelming everyone. All I needed to do is show up, even if a bit disheveled, hobbling, quietened by infirmity.
As soon as I admitted in writing how frail and capable of incapacity I am,
the illusion I’ve always had about myself (invincible) shattered.
The trance broke.
The spell was undone.
I was porous with relief.
As soon as I said ‘No, I can’t…’ I worked out a different ‘Yes.’
I said NO to my old way of doing things, and YES to a more vulnerable, imperfect way of showing up. Knowing I may disappoint people has given me the chance to break; the space to heal, and the humility to admit I need to do both.
Now I get to discover who I’ll be now that I am not who I was anymore.
In the meantime, my team and I have been working on a completely revamped website to make navigation, support for your writing and resources to help you easily accessible. We will soon have dates for the next online 7 Day Free Writing Challenge and the Author Awakening Adventure (email [email protected] to register your interest), and more information on the exciting new releases from Joanne Fedler Media for 2019. And if all this sounds like I have not learned my lesson yet – just watch. I’m going to be delegating, taking more downtime to write my new book, and drawing on the incredible team I have to bring you these offerings.
Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough
A Five-Day (18-22 March) Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler
In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.