Are These 5 Words Holding You Back?

Nautilus ShellIt was late spring in 2009 when my phone rang in the edit room at Harpo Studios. As I glanced at the phone number, I remarked to the editor, “Mm. I wonder who’s calling me from New York?”

It was my literary agent telling me there was an offer on my book. My reaction? Pure panic.

I recall thinking, these exact words, “I can’t write a book! I’m not a writer!”

Sure, I’d submitted a book proposal to the agent months before, but I didn’t actually expect it to sell, did I? Frankly, no. I convinced myself that the opportunity to write the proposal was just some random thing that had happened. I would never actually have to write a book. Just crafting the proposal was scary enough. I didn’t see myself as a writer. And that was the very thing that almost held me back.

Because those 5 words “I can’t…” and “I’m not a…” are powerful, and very, very limiting. How we see ourselves, and our capabilities, is often referred to as our comfort zones. That sounds innocuous enough. But in my experience, comfort zones can have very high walls, keeping us trapped in what feels safe and familiar. But ultimately they stop us from growing.

Yet grow we must.

Life isn’t about standing still. Sure, there are times – years, maybe – where “safe and familiar” works just fine. And then we start to feel a little uncomfortable, like we’re outgrowing our lives. It reminds me of a nautilus, living inside a shell within a safe chamber, until it becomes too small and constricting. Then it must leave that space behind and build a larger one. And so it goes throughout its lifetime.

That brings me back to those 5 words that almost held me back, that almost prevented me from writing a book – those powerful words that almost prevented me from becoming a best selling author.

“I can’t…” and “I’m not a…”

Yet there is one little sentence that has the potential to diffuse those limiting words.

“So what?”

Just because “I can’t” do something today doesn’t mean I can’t stumble my way through it. Just because “I’m not a such and such” doesn’t mean I’m not capable of figuring it out. Who says we have to be an expert at something before we’ve even tried it?

Actually I know who says it. We do. We are the ones who hold ourselves back. Especially when it comes to something that is grounded in creativity and self expression. Sure, some of us may have naysayers in the background, but they don’t have much control over us unless we give over our own power to them.

Because here’s the thing. I was not technically a writer back then. Until I sat down at my computer just about every day for more than six months, while working at least 6 days a week at the Oprah show, and I wrote. And I learned the simple truth that writing makes you a writer. Painting makes you a painter. The magic, the escape from those 5 words, is in the doing.

Sure, I get it that when you think of being a writer or a painter or whatever path calls to you, you compare yourself to someone known and respected in that field. And you think to yourself, “Yes but, he’s a writer. She’s an artist.” Okay, but what were they before they were known and respected for their work? I’ll tell you. They weren’t sitting around hoping one day to be a writer or a painter. They were writing and painting. All. The. Time. Sure, they had days full of doubts. Of course they did. But they kept going. And they got better. Ultimately they got attention and acclaim. But long before they were acknowledged by others as being writers or painters or whatever it is, they became those things. On their own. With no one’s permission.

If you feel called to be a writer, stop telling yourself you’re not one, or you can’t write. Sit down and write already. Write a blog, self-publish a book, or go out and pitch literary agents until you accept the fact that whether you get an agent or not, you are a writer if you write regularly. If you want to be a painter, buy some inexpensive paints, find some light, and let your brush touch the canvas. Take a class on technique if you need guidance. But most importantly, take action.

And this doesn’t just apply to professional callings. So if you want to be a gardener, head to the local plant nursery, find some vegetables or flowers that feel right to you and put them in the ground behind your house, or in a planter box on your balcony. And tend to them, regularly. And those seeds may grow into a fun experiment, a beloved hobby, or a professional calling. It doesn’t matter yet. What matters is that you plant them.

In all of these examples, there will be failures. You will learn from your writing, from your painting, from the seeds you plant. That is how you truly become what you want to be. You learn from the doing, from the failing, from the joy that is waiting for you just outside your comfort zone.

So, let’s be inspired by the nautilus, whose own personal growth story produces a shell of incredible beauty, a testament to what life can look like when we push the boundaries and expand into our own destinies.

Make a promise today. Next time those life-limiting words creep in, let them be denied. Instead, let your dreams be given space to grow and flourish, not in a zone of comfort, but in one of possibilities.

2 Responses to Are These 5 Words Holding You Back?

  1. Mary, i went online and saw your message. You don’t know how reading this has affected me. They say if in life you help just one person then you have made a major accomplishment. I’m literally in tears as I type. In life I have always tried to be the person that helped someone. I have always felt that if you helped someone then your life was worth something. We are supposed to grow from things that make your life difficult. I have left those things choke the creative life from me. I was always thought to be good at a lot of things and only had to choose which road I would walk down. Early in my life I was told that “I thought that I was better and that I showed off. I listened and thought well maybe they are right for there were a lot of people saying this. I was told that I was also the common denominator. Therefore I devised that they must be right. I stopped doing things that I loved. I am now a lot older and limited by my self made prison. Your article has made me think; What do I have to lose? Now I will try and now for whatever time I have left in this world I will do what I like and whatever makes me happy. Mary, from the depths of my hearth I thank you

  2. Shirley, now I’m the one who is crying. I am deeply humbled and moved by your beautiful comment! You have no idea what impact your words have had on me! I’m so grateful that this post spoke to you. Express your unique and beautiful creativity starting now – we need your gifts in the world!

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