Not many people know this about me, but I once co-founded a mental health blog for law students. As part of a program in my penultimate year of law school, I was tasked to create a project that would add value to the law faculty. I knew immediately that I wanted to create a platform where students could share their personal trials and triumphs in order to encourage others. A place where people could come, read stories, and say ‘me too.’ I didn’t know it back then, but starting that project was the catalyst that sparked my entire writing journey.
Before it launched, I was plagued with fear. I’m talking thick, heavy, ready-to-throw-up fear. Mental illness is a sensitive topic and I was worried about ruffling feathers and offending people; sick to my stomach about what people would say if they saw my name attached to the project with the label ‘co-founder.’
But deep down, I felt an incredibly strong pull to start this blog. From my own personal battle with mental illness, I knew that reading the stories and fight songs from people who had come through the other side would act as a healing balm over the most painful of wounds. Yet, I was constantly torn between my desire to contribute something meaningful to the community and my paranoia over what people would think.
While still wrestling with my fear, I caught up with an old friend who was knee deep in the media and creative world. Someone who understood the terrifying reality that once words and art are published on the internet, it takes on a life of its own, giving you absolutely no control over how people will react to it.
He stayed silent and remarkably calm the entire time I word-vomited all my worst insecurities. Then, he said this:
“There are two circles of people who will read your words. The first will resonate with it and will throw their support behind you. The second will raise their guard at your words because it strikes a nerve deep down inside them. They may lash out and criticise you. Either way, it doesn’t matter; they’re still reading.”
It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about this friend and our catch up. But his sage advice has always stuck with me – especially now.
As I write this, everyone is confined inside and waiting for the pandemic to blow over. The isolation has been confronting, but it has also freed up space for many of us to tap into our creativity once again. To replace the mundane and distract ourselves from our anxiety, we’ve dusted off old projects, rekindled our love for books and art, and committed ourselves to new hobbies.
I’m willing to bet that now, more than ever, you’ve been longing to create something of your own. As the external distractions fade and you stare at the same four walls in your room, you can feel the deep pull inside of you that’s begging you to share your craft with the world. You feel elated as you imagine all the possibilities – the art you will create, the words you’ll share, the business you’ll build – before the thought of that second circle, the one made up of critics and bullies from high school, brings your excitement to a screeching halt.
When an idea plants itself in your head, it’s natural to be fearful of this group of people. It’s instinct to let potential criticism paralyse you and make you second guess yourself. You’ve likely conjured up a vision of someone saying something snarky about your creation behind your back or rolling their eyes. No one is immune to this, least of all me.
It’s been a year and a half since I’ve started publishing words online and in that time I like to think I’ve learnt a thing or two about that second circle of people. I can only speak about writing, but here’s what I know to be true: whatever you seek to create will evoke a reaction – good and bad.
Words are powerful. It ruffles feathers, draws out repressed emotions, and riles up the beast inside that wants to stay hidden. Words have the power to unlock memories, transport us to faraway places, and evoke intense, visceral reactions. It makes us laugh, cry, and feel everything in-between.
To avoid sharing our words because we’re scared of how people will react is to strip it of the very thing that gives it its power.
There may be times when you don’t get the praise and support you crave. You may even have yourself a critic or two who would love to see you fall.
But that’s not where our focus should be.
When fear crowds our hearts and minds, we become narrow minded. We forget the real reason we want to start a blog, a business, or a portfolio of artwork to begin with: to satisfy the deep longing in our soul to create and to add value to other people’s lives.
More importantly, we neglect the fact that there’s an entire circle of people who will read and resonate with what we have to offer.
When I find myself paralysed and confined by a prison of my own insecurities and fears, I like to think about the writers, artists, and musicians who came before me. I think about how stumbling upon a blog from a lady in Atlanta carried me through the darkest period of my life; how certain songs and paintings remind me of people and places I adore.
Then, I think about how I wouldn’t be the same person I am today if it wasn’t for them and their radical decision to share their craft.
I may never get the chance to shake the creators’ hand in real life and explain how their art left an imprint on my heart. They may never know how their labour of love shaped me into the person I am today. But that doesn’t lessen the impact of their art.
All that to say, you may never know exactly who is reading your work or admiring your art. You may never know who screenshots your words for a rainy day, clicks the link in bio, or even bothers to read your whole caption. Your posts may never go viral, attract 100 likes, or be re-shared. Your work may never be on a bestseller’s list, hung in the Louvre, or on Spotify’s Top List.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not impacting someone. It doesn’t mean it’s not sowing the seeds of hope in someone’s heart or causing a shift in perspective. Perhaps the person your craft is supposed to have the deepest impact on is yourself. Everything else is just extra.
Remember this, friends. Your duty is to the people you want to serve and to yourself. Focus less on the potential naysayers, and more on the ones who may be forever changed by the things you have to say.
So, if you’re currently wrestling over whether to press publish on your blog post, announce your side-hustle, or share your art, let this be your permission slip: just do it.
Encouraging you always,
If you’ve recently bitten the bullet and launched a new blog, side-hustle, comment/reply below and let me know. I would love to support and cheer you on during this time.