Are you ready to put yourself 'out there'?
Join me in a new mantra (and prompt) for 2024...
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There is a routine that happens in my house every single night. My husband and I eat dinner, whilst the dogs sit by our feet. Occasionally, as knives are scarped across near empty plates, our elder dog, Parker, will gently place a paw on my knee.
Is there anything left for me?
Scraps are tossed into wet mouths, and then we know what happens next. It has been the same way for the last eight years or so now. Certainly as long as we have lived in this house. She will walk towards the back doors which look out onto the garden and the fields beyond it, and give us a single backwards look. It is our cue to open them and her cue to run out, barking into the blackness.
She is a largish dog and it is a frightening bark. It feels like she owns the entire night. But on occasion, when I have run outside to calm her (neighbours don’t take kindly to that sort of thing, you see) I can see that she is shaking. She is scared, terrified in fact, and yet in spite of that she puts herself out there.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently- this concept of being ‘out there’.
When I was younger and without any sort of network to fall back on, my elder sister used to say to me- ‘you need to put yourself out there if you want to succeed.’ And after numerous break-ups, well-meaning friends would squeeze my hand and always advise the same thing: ‘get back out there again’.
‘Out there’ used to terrify me; and in many ways it still does. It is why I have not written a second book. It is why I never started a podcast when all my peers have - I mean, who’d want to listen to my nasally voice? And why I’ve never braved Instagram beyond dog pictures and Kentish sunsets fearing the laughter of others if I as much as attempt a selfie or video. I fear experimenting with an edgy new haircut (who does she think she is?); I fear asking for things I have never asked for before - more of people’s time, more time of myself, more money, a bigger job, more of new friends, less of ones I’ve outgrown. I was fine when I was editing magazines like Cosmo and ELLE because I could hide behind a brand. But when it’s just me? I’ve always been terrible.
And putting yourself ‘out there’ gets worse as you age. (Unless you’re one of those mythical creatures who genuinely doesn’t give a damn about consequences or what anyone thinks. But I know few of these.) Despite the fact we know more about the world by the time we’ve reached a certain age; despite the fact we know most people are too consumed with themselves to take any notice of what we’re doing; despite the fact we know the futility of risking the judgement of everyone- since those who please everyone end up pleasing no one at all in the end - we still feel paralysed by putting ourselves ‘out there’ in the world.
I don’t know why exactly, but I do know that as you age the risks feel bigger and the rewards far smaller. If you publish a novel at twenty say, the potential to be a world famous novelist by your 40s is greater than if you published your first book at 50. (Though Annie Proulx wrote her first novel at 56 and took home a Pulitzer a year later). What’s more, the more life you’ve had, the more you’ve seen; seeing tending to make caution and certainty your abiding mantras rather than risk and optimism.
But here’s what we do know as we age: we come to realise that ‘out there’ is not a place in the world- it is a place in our heads. It’s an emotional state of mind that requires risk, vulnerability and the timid hope that what you dream of doing might just be of value to the world. Those are hard things to reconcile as you get older. Risk can seem foolish when executed by elders; whilst vulnerability is hard to expose after years of careful self preservation. As for those little burning embers of hope we all harbour? Don’t be silly, we tell ourselves. You’re old enough to know better…
And yet, as we age we are in fact in the perfect position to put ourselves ‘out there’. Why? Because most of us have figured out what our true purpose feels like. We’ve had enough years on this planet to know that that burning idea that keeps raising its head isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. We recognise the things that make us feel lifted. We are familiar with those activities that leave us energised every time we do them. Writing! Painting! Experimenting with fashion! Don’t dismiss any of it as a silly whim if it makes you feel this way. Listen to it. Lean in. That’s your soul whispering to you about your new direction of travel.
Almost two years ago to this day, my soul whispered to me. I had always wanted to write for myself. Despite having been an editor for over a decade I didn’t want another editor to dictate what I should and should not write about. This desire coincided with me packing in my twenty-year career as a journalist and editor to start again in the world of tech. (As some of you will know, I am head of writer partnerships for Substack in both the UK and Europe). As I left journalism I turned down offers to have columns with publishing brands I knew and admired. Yes, they would have offered certainty at a time of great uncertainty in my life but they would also have distracted me from what I felt was my real purpose.
I’ve always been an expert at distracting myself from putting myself ‘out there’ by the way. On my computer there’s a folder called BOOKS. In there are at least five or six different book ideas. Each one is thousands of words long. Three are non-fiction ideas; a business-style book, and at least two works of fiction that have characters and plots and complete chapter breakdowns. Collectively, I have spent years on them all. And yet I have nothing to show for it. If I had stuck to one idea and seen it through I would have a book by now. I might have had some success. I might also have had some failure. Either way I would have won because I’d have been moving forward with my life. Instead I have wasted the last few years residing in the space between uncertainty and hope. It fees like a safe space, for whilst something’s still a an idea you can never fail, right? But it’s a dangerous place for your soul.
Maybe this is you- preferring to rest in the safety of the research stage of a new project. Or better still, preferring to stay in the research stage of multiple projects. It is the most perfect place of avoidance: purpose without pressure.
Over time I realised what I really wanted to do, what I had always wanted to do was create my own community rather than an audience. I wanted to write about the things that interested me, a sort of live autobiography of sorts. But oh God, was I fraught with anxiety. The anxiety that no one, and I mean no one, would subscribe. The anxiety of putting my most personal writing on the Internet. The anxiety that old colleagues would cringe. Or laugh. Or think I was completely bat shit for doing such a thing after a relatively distinguished career in magazines.
And yet, in spite of all that I did it.
This Substack has been one of the greatest success of my career. Better than winning awards for editing magazines. Better than sitting on boards for things I care deeply about ; better even than even getting my first book published. Why? Because I’ve done it alone. I’ve listened to the whispers of my soul. I’ve realised that no one ever really does things for the rewards anyway. Rewards are nice, sure (and growing this Substack to a community of over 30,000 people from across the world has been beyond incredible) but it’s not I why write here. I write here because this is the thing that brings me real purpose. This is the place where it’s just me- my ideas, my thoughts, my work. In front of the computer, writing, as I do now, is when I feel most alive.
Yes it has left me open to the world. I have, for example, lost count of the number of people who unsubscribe every single day. And I know there are those that think this is nothing more than a self-indulgent blog. (It goes back to that idea of not pleasing everyone all the time.)
But here is what else it has taught me that I think is worth sharing as we all enter into a new year:
You will be judged and you will be knocked back. Every time you put yourself out there, this will happen. But your strength for carrying on in spite of this will knock you sideways with sheer pride.
A place of risk is a place of opportunity to both grow and to inspect what you’re made of. Often you’ll shock the hell out of yourself by the direction in which you choose to grow
Putting yourself ‘out there’ starts with putting one step in front of the other. Not with a hundred ideas, not with a fancy new logo, not with the certainty that you will succeed. But with the certainty that you can move forward
You’ll start to believe the best of people. It’s easy to believe the narrative that others want us to fail. But those who consume our work desperately want the very opposite: they want us to succeed. I have seen this time and again. Knowing this makes it that much easier.
It takes guts not to listen to all your feelings: Feelings are powerful things and fear is probably one of the strongest emotions of all. Remember that 1970s bestseller- ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’? That’s part of putting yourself out there. Feel it, but don’t let it take control. Let it pass through. Like water.
Ultimately putting yourself out there is emotionally exhausting; it does feel like a huge leap of faith (because hey, it is!); you might disappoint yourself along the way and it will rarely, if ever, feel easy. But often what is meant for you requires all of this.
In the spirit of putting yourself out there I’d love you to answer the following questions either in the comments below or in your own private journal. I’m going to start us off and I hope as many of you as possible will join me. Putting ourselves ‘out there’ can be so much easier when we all face our fears together.
Have a wonderful New Year wherever you are in the world. And thank you for spending 2023 with me.
What’s the thing you’re most proud of doing this year?
What would ‘putting yourself out there’ look like for you in 2024?
Remember to join this prompt dive in below…