Thursday, July 30, 2009

Serenity Tip: See your work clearly

It's so odd the veil between how I see the world and how the world actually is--especially in my freelance work.

Last year, I wrote a complicated story on the foreclosure crisis, focusing on people who were in a financial bind because of the healthcare costs associated with multiple sclerosis. Of course I worked hard on the story. I always try to keep in mind how my work can be of service to my clients and my readers, so I went beyond the sources the client gave me (it was a custom publication, where they often supply the people they want quoted) and sought out the best stories to illustrate the issue. I dug into the edits to illustrate the suggestions of experts with the lived experiences of people kind enough to share their struggles while they were in the middle of them.

But then, after the piece was done and I thought it was well received, I got an email from my editor, asking me why I hadn't responded to calls from another editor. Apparently, they'd been trying to reach me for weeks. I was mortified. I called back right away, gave them the information, but couldn't shake the feeling that I now appeared to them to be a flake.

I couldn't let go of the lapse--a lapse I didn't even realize had happened because I hadn't received any calls or emails. In fact, I still felt mortified yesterday, when I emailed the folks at the association for which the story had been written. At the suggestion of another freelancer, I contacted the association directly, seeking to reacquaint myself with them and, hopefully, get more work. As far as I could tell, that one lapse was the only dark spot in my record with them. I hoped they wouldn't remember it.

Well, I got an email back right away and the respose startled and elated me. It started with:

Of course we remember you.
You don't have to sell your talents to us!

That alone would have been enough to make my day. But then it continued to this startling revelation:

I’m not sure the message ever got to you that “Foreclosure and the Art of Saving Your Home” won a 2009 Apex Award of Excellence for Financial & Investment Writing.

For a second, I sat in stunned silence, staring at the computer screen. Then I grinned broadly and did a little jubilant dance in my office chair. This was the story: The story I thought of as a smudge on my otherwise stellar record with them. Not only did they not see me as a flake, but they were thrilled enough with my work to submit it for an award. And it won!

I tell this story not just to share my joy, but because my coaching clients are always trying to hedge their bets. They're always trying to be one step ahead of the mythical editors they imagine checking out their Web sites. They don't want an editor to see them as too much of this or not enough of that. They're convinced, in short, that their experience and their writing doesn't measure up.

But what my experience has taught me--and what this particular experience makes clear--is that as freelancers, we can't see our work clearly. If you're like me, you blow up the negative and shrink the positive. You see yourself through the skewed lens of your own self-doubt and insecurity. It's only natural. We're human. And we work alone, where we don't get to hear the plaudits of our editors unless they make the explicit effort to call us or email us with them.

I encourage you to do what you can to adjust your gaze--to see yourself as clearly as possible.

Chances are, if people are always telling you you're a good writer, you probably are.
If people tell you they like your work, they probably do.

They aren't being polite. They aren't sparing your feelings. They're trying to get you to see yourself clearly, too. Sometimes the obvious reason for their statement is the real one. Sometimes it really is that simple.

Where do you need to adjust your vision? Where is the fog of self-doubt still clouding your impression of your own work and worth?

Photo by terren in Virginia.

1 comment:

Kim said...

This is such a fantastic story! Thanks for sharing ... and offering us all a little bit of perspective.