When Things Are Hard

In high school, I wanted to be a journalist. Writing a lead for an article in the school newspaper was like chipping the first bit of ice off of a future sculpture; I could see the story shaping itself through the research I had done, in the interviews I had conducted. With words and a keyboard as my chisel, I wanted nothing but to show others what I saw through the most graceful, transparent language possible.

Usually, I succeeded at doing so. I won awards and was often told that my writing was fine. Even good.

Although I was given more encouragement than discouragement, what sticks out from those years are the two times I was told that pursuing a career in journalism would be difficult. Hard. One, from a loving adult in my family who knew that journalists worked tough schedules: late nights and long days dependent on deadlines. I heard him but was still wanting to try. The second time was from a school and writing mentor who said in passing one day that the field was competitive, “hard.” She didn’t say that I was not good enough to compete. But, to me, that was what hard meant.

I gave up on journalism after a few years at college, never giving it a fair shot.

This morning, twenty years later, I sat at my computer, my one-year-old using the pepper grinder like a maraca next to me and my four-year-old putting out imaginary fires in the background, and wrote an email to another mentor, a woman who was a highly successful journalist from my hometown, Buffalo. I had never exchanged more than a hello with her when I interned at my hometown paper. But, this morning I was feeling brave. I told her my situation: mother of two small kids with a PhD in literary studies, aspiring to be a journalist but unsure where, at this point, to begin. I asked her for some career advice. She told me that it would be tough for me to be a journalist. It's a hard career. Especially now.

She didn’t elaborate or explain why. But her words were like a harsh sun, melting my block of ice before I had the chance to begin to sculpt again.

Nothing that she said wasn’t true or practical. Still, her words were deflating. I suddenly felt all of the things that I feared at once: that it was too late for me to have a career as a writer; no one would read my words, the field was too competitive, I would be critiqued, I was not good enough to make it.

It was too hard.

Once my initial reaction settled, I began to feel the powerful soul within me rise up against my harsh inner critic. First, she rose in anger. Not anger at the person to whom I had written; I knew that person was only being honest. It was true that journalism would be hard. Rather, my anger was directed at the part of me that had translated hard into impossible. The part of me that had kept me from believing in myself for all of these years.

Sure, things would be hard. Building a career as a mother would be difficult. But, I could do it. I had given birth twice to posterior babies, I had run a marathon in Madrid, I had written and defended a dissertation. I could definitely handle hard. Instead of shying away from what I wanted most, I could chose to believe that people would care, that people would want to listen, that my stories might be meaningful.

I could stop waiting for others to believe in me. I could believe in myself. I could begin to write. And if it was hard, at least I would know that I had given it a shot.

So, today I am giving it a shot. I am putting myself out there, bare-skinned, and showing myself before this cold spell ends and it all melts away.