A very major publication just reviewed my friend's book. The reviewer loved the book and as I read the review, each laudatory sentence makes me more ill. I feel an overwhelming moment of self-doubt coming on. I get sweaty and my heart pounds and I feel like the world will end if I don't have sugar.
My moments of self-doubt always begin with the panic that I will not do anything important in my life. I panic that I will not even figure out what is important, let alone do it. Then I have flashbacks to all the teachers who wrote, “Penelope is bright, but she does not work up to her potential.”
Tonight I am so upset I can't even finish my stack of reading. I fear I will read somewhere in my pile that the Nobel Prize committee has decided to make 100 simultaneous awards and they are all to people I know and now everyone I ever talk to will have a Nobel Prize and I won't.
Tonight I am worrying that other people have greatness and there is a finite amount of greatness and it is slipping out of my hands. Also, it is embarrassing to admit to wanting greatness knowing that there is a risk that I will not achieve it.
To calm myself down I eat some Oreos and as the double-stuffness clears my mind, I remember the aspects of my friend's life that are so destroyed that not even an outstanding book review will help:
1. He has been married for fifteen years and cheated on his wife about fifteen times.
2. His mother is overbearing and controlling and spent his book advance on purchases that will not improve her life, or his.
3. His wife's friends hate him so much for his arrogance they do not talk to him.
4. His dog does not play well with others and you can't teach old dogs new tricks.
Okay. There. I am feeling better already.
So I sit down to do the only thing that can make things better: I do my job. I am sure that the best way to face self-doubt is to push through it.
I remind myself that this guy had writer's block for six months, and nearly lost his whole book contract because he wasn't meeting deadlines. He ran out of money three months before he delivered the book and he lived off credit cards, hoping that the book would sell so well that he would earn over and above the initial advance. He pushed himself in the face of failure and even bet on himself a second time.
I can do that. With a clear head I know that everyone who has wild success is someone who had to eat a box of Oreos. Everyone has her moments of huge self-doubt, often in the face of someone else's grand success. But there is not finite success in the world. There is just a finite amount of people who can stomach the pain of wanting success so much.
So tonight I stomach pain. I put the book review on my fridge to remind myself that my friend pushed through his own self-doubt and garnered laudatory reviews from his peers. I sit down to write another column, and eventually my self-doubt dissipates. It always does.