Yes I Can

Back when I was writing children’s books, I had a pretty simple formula I used to create my stories.  I would create a main character and place him or her in a situation that they desperately wanted to change, which would give me the main plot of my story.  If I were writing a longer book for older children, I would then plan out a chapter-by-chapter timeline to help me keep track of everything as I wrote.  (Details have never been my strong point.)  Finally, I would begin writing the actual manuscript….and that was usually the point where my creative confidence began to drain away and the paralyzing self-doubt crept in.

The problem was that no matter how passionately I believed in the story I was trying to write, a part of me was always thinking, “Will an editor like this?  Is my main character interesting enough?  Is my plot believable?” and so on and so on.  And those are valid concerns.  As all writers who hope to get their work accepted by a publisher know, finding an editor who wants to buy our manuscript is an absolute necessity.  But the constant presence of the critical editor in my mind basically squashed my creativity and made it impossible to write from my heart.  And the result was often a competent, but flat, manuscript that lacked a unique and creative spark.

Sadly, that internal critic isn’t limited to my writing.  I can look back on my life and see many times when I allowed that little voice that says “you can’t, you shouldn’t, you’re not good enough,” to dictate my choices and my behavior.  There were too many times when I turned my back on an opportunity, didn’t want to take a risk, or stayed silent when I should have spoken up. There were too many times that I held back when I should have stepped boldly forward.

The simple truth is, when our internal dialogue turns too negative, we aren’t really able to live our lives to their fullest potential.  And that’s a tragedy that none of us should allow.

I believe most of us get better at self-acceptance as we get older, and I’m no exception.  As the years go by, I find myself learning to tune out that negative “internal committee” and to replace it with one that is so much more compassionate and encouraging.  I find myself being willing to risk simply being myself by following my dreams, voicing my true opinions and in general, doing what feels right to me.  It’s a journey, but I am moving slowly and steadily forward.

If I had the chance to go back in time and speak to my younger self, I would have so much advice I would want to share.  But if I was limited to just one thing, it would be, “Believe in yourself and follow your heart.”  Because if we can learn to do that, everything else will surely work out.

143 thoughts on “Yes I Can

  1. Excellent advice — and I’m glad you’ve lightened up on yourself. Your most crucial line of advice-to-one’s-younger-self reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw once (only once!) years ago at a very critical time of decision: “Speak your heart, even if your voice shakes.” It, too, has come in handy. It really is alright to believe in yourself and to follow your heart. How do we get so far away from it??

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  2. Such a true sentiment, Ann! I can relate to the inner voice of doubt niggling away, and you are right that it is less powerful (thankfully!) over time, but it is a hard lesson to learn to believe in yourself. Thank you for sharing.

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  3. we are our own worst enemies, do you still have those stories? How about editing them from your heart and sending them off … otherwise you will never know! Do your grandson proud 🙂

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    • Thanks, Kate! I actually did send them off, and got mostly form rejection letters, with a few personal ones, saying that if I changed this or that, they would be interested. But I couldn’t get out of my own way and write what I wanted, so I can’t really blame the editors. The unique voice is what they wanted, and I coudln’t deliver it at that time. But: I may still do something with them yet! Because now I am no longer quite so intimidated.

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    • They are probably wonderful stories! You, and only you could write any of the stories you wrote. That is because you are unique and bring something to the page no one else could bring. Your life story is your own and you have a voice all your own. So, although there are thousands and thousands of children’s books out there, none of them tell your ‘story’.

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  4. “As the years go by, I find myself learning to tune out that negative “internal committee” and to replace it with one that is so much more compassionate and encouraging.”
    I find many of your posts have a “just right, you got it” phrase or sentence. I liked this one a lot. Some committees deserve to go out of business.

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    • Thank you, Ron, I really believe that they do. For all of us! We need to learn to believe in ourselves, and to ignore those little voices that say, “You can’t, you’re not good enough, you shouldn’t….” Just think of what could be accomplished!

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      • That’s a very good point. I do think that the people who are most judgemental towards others are usually the people who are the most critical of themselves. When we learn to be accepting and gentle with ourselves, it’s so much easier to be accepting and kind to others!

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    • Thanks, Lisa! I think almost all of us struggle to tune out that negative voice, especially if we are trying to be creative. And yet we can never truly be ourselves unless we learn to do that. Thank goodness is gets easier with age!

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  5. Excellent and honest post. This is another reason I follow your blog. I can identify with the self-confidence strain. But I also am hampered by the “what if” monster. I have to fight that voice with everything I can harness. Hugs from here, Ann. -Alan

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  6. Ann, I think you’ve hit upon one of the great truths of growing up, growing into ourselves. Eventually, we have to learn to accept ourselves, or we just can’t ever move forward and become all that we should be.

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    • I think you are right. One of the ways we know we are true adults is when we become more accepting of our true selves, which makes us kinder and more tolerant of others as well. If we could only learn this sooner, the world would be a much better place…I really believe that!

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  7. We are on the same wavelength, Ann. As we get older, we tend care less of what other people think and begin to listen more and more to our inner voice. Ten years ago I would not have dared to publish my future wife’s letters and my own. Now I think differently. These precious letters would have landed in somebody’s attic or worse in the dump yard, after we two have passed away. Now they are out in the open for people to read and for our family to appreciate. Believe in yourself and follow your heart is indeed very good advice, Ann.

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    • Oh, I really think so, Peter! I’m so glad you found the courage to publish your family story. I know I have not only enjoyed it, but also learned a lot from it and I’m sure your other readers have as well. We do become braver, and more honest, as we get older, and I believe that is a very good thing.
      BTW: since you speak German, can you translate one of the earlier comments for me? Someone wrote: “Froh ostern fest nachtragend.” Sadly, I don’t know German! Thanks!

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    • I like the way you put that, Svet! We do indeed need to make our own mistakes, and make them proudly. Because each of us is unique, and each of us has something special to offer, even in our imperfections!

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  8. Ann, that’s really good advice. I think I need to be reminded sometimes that being creative doesn’t mean fitting into the mold, in fact, it’s probably closer to the opposite. I appreciate your honest and very relevant post. I’m going to sleep on it may have a different perspective tomorrow. Thank-you for sharing that with us! Des

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    • I’m not sure, since publishing has changed so much. But I do believe I would write a much more authentic and unique story, saying exactly what I wanted to say without fear of judgement. And really, that’s what counts in the end. Thanks, Neil!

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  9. I do agree wholeheartedly! The older the less the opinions of others concerning me count. I wish I had the confidence I’ve gained when I was a teen. I think I’d have had a lot more fun with much less angst! I didn’t know you wrote children’s books – what are some of your titles??

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    • Yes, it would be so wonderful to have the confidence we have now, and the bodies (and energy) we had then. I have actually written six children’s books but only one has been published. “Getting Rid of Harold” is a YA book for high schoolers who are reading at the middle school level, published by Globe/Fearon. I don’t think it is even in print now! I did publish a bunch of feature articles in local magazines and newspapers, but sadly, that was the only one of my children’s book manuscripts that was published.

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      • Celebrate the book! Lots of people never even finish writing one book. I talk to so many people who tell me that they have a book ‘in them’, and when they have time, they are going to write it. The trouble of course, is that the perfect time never comes. I think we should all celebrate our little victories as we go, and when we look back as well. We keep learning new things. Yes, we make lots of mistakes, but that is part of the process. At least, we are living our dreams, and enjoying the journey. The saddest thing is when people do not step out on the journey at all. Celebrate each and every wonderful step you took.

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        • Thank you so much! Your encouragement is a real gift, and you are very generous to share it with others. I am proud that I managed to publish one book, even though it wasn’t my favorite. And honestly, as time goes by, I am learning to celebrate that I actually wrote the others, even if they weren’t published. As you say, we must learn to recognize what we have done rather than dwell on what we haven’t!

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  10. Wise words Ann and I can very much relate. It’s time to boot out that annoying Negative Committee but sometimes they have an annoying habit of wrangling themselves back in. Here’s to being older and wiser and believing in ourselves. xx

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    • Oh yes, they are quite determined and will slip back into our mind the very second they get a chance. But we just boot those negative committee members right back out again, and know that we’ll need to keep that up for most of our lives. And you’re right, being older and wise does help enormously….it’s so much easier to believe in ourselves than when we were young, uncertain, and out to please everyone!

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  11. In Ireland the mindset is often…”Self-praise is no praise” and this belief has the power to stop you in your tracks. We should just try everyday to relax into who we are, appreciate mistakes as great lessons and just follow our heart! Great post Ann, if only we could have told it to ourselves years ago but at least we are listening now…there’s still time!

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    • You’re right, there is still time. And I really don’t like that saying either. Of course we shouldn’t go overboard on self-praise (conceit doesn’t help anyone), but sometimes just simply knowing that we have done something that we think is good is a very affirming thing. Even with my blog, I’ve learned to write the best post I can, and then just think, “I’m happy with that one, I think I did a good job.” rather than wait to see how many views and “likes” I get. Sometimes self praise is actually a very good thing!

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    • Yes, that is very true. Sometimes those “negative voices” are telling the truth, and we ignore them at our peril. Maybe the trick is to examine those thoughts and figure out whether they are grounded in facts, or simply a negative mindset? Because if it’s the first, we need to listen. If it’s the second, it’s time to show those internal critics the door!

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  12. Sometimes, when I am very hard on myself, I try to remember what I would say to a dear friend. Surely, I would be kind to the friend. I would remind the friend that he or she was a work in progress, and doing just marvelously. It is true; we are hardest on ourselves and expect perfection. Age is a great teacher, and we learn that so much of what we worried about was a waste of time.

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    • That’s a great idea, Linda! And an answer to the question Maggie posed above. We are honest with our dear friends, and as encouraging as we can be. But when we see them making a bad decision, we do let them know, gently but firmly. And that’s a great way to treat ourselves as well!

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  13. I refer to myself as a “late bloomer” who has had two midlife crises. The first, at the age of 40, was to go to college and get a Master’s Degree in Social Work over the next six years. After retiring four years ago, I decided that I’d try my hand at writing and it’s been going well–self-publishing two novelettes and one novel; and having two short stories published. So, my point is, I think that I would have had those internal conflicts had I been younger and full of self-doubt when I did these things. The maturity we have when we attempt major changes in life may give us the confidence we need to over rule those negative feelings, I think. At least I think that’s what has been behind my successes–AGE!!

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    • Good for you for trying something new, twice! And I agree, you probably wouldn’t have done that in your youth. Age does give us confidence as we go along, and that is a really, really good thing!

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  14. Here, here. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I don’t think the journey would be as rich if we knew then what we knew now. Yet, the little whispers of encouragement to just chill out, be happy and let everything work itself out would have been soothing. ;-}

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    • I know, as much as I wish I could have known then what I know now, there is probably a reason I didn’t. Some things we learn only through experience. And I agree that those little whispers of encouragement would have been so wonderful back then. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

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    • Yes, I think that is where that old saying “youth is wasted on the young” comes from. As we age, our bodies deteriorate, but our minds grow and expand. I guess it’s too make up for the losses? Whatever the case, I’m glad that I’m growing more confident with who I really am as I age!

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        • Very curious to know where the “tanglefoot” originated. I do some volunteer work for an Australian company that markets a train simulator, and have recently been using UK breweries past/present for place names … and I came across Badger Tanglefoot! Not the most common of names hence my curiousity! 🙂

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          • I did see the name once in younger days, it was a local (Devon) cider i think. I remembered it cos I often get my feet tangled,whilst walking, since I had a brain virus twenty years ago and my balance is messed up.

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            • Perhaps the Tanglefoot Cider was in addition to the beer business? I am often accused of tripping over my own feet (and white lines in roads, and cracks in pavements) …. but the cause has yet to be determined. I do have a leg length discrepancy, so I blame my “klutziness” on that. Agility has never been a strong point for me!:)

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            • I actually don’t have a leg discrepancy…though,it feels like it ……my left leg trips me up frequently, nor does it get off the ground properly. So I can sympathise with your imbuggerance and being ‘ klutzy ‘ is rather endearing!

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  15. Great advice! I have done many things over the years and, in the context of being creative, I have always done what makes me happy. If it makes someone else happy ……….. bonus! It seems to me that if my creativity is being stifled by outside expectations, then I am not expressing me to the fullest extent and, given that we only get one shot at life ….. why would I short change myself? I will never be financially rich with that approach, but I am extremely happy (and have no regrets) with my life! 🙂

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    • That is a very healthy way to look at it, Colin! Because you’re right, as soon as we try to create something to meet someone else’s expectations, we lose the joy and the soul of creativity. And what’s the point in that?

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      • I guess writing is a bit like life in general. We have to determine what we are going to do, and accept the appropriate consequences. Writers should know whether they are writing for an audience (in which case you provide what the audience wants), or writing for themselves. The first option has the potential to generate significant revenue …. but did the writer sell themselves short with their creativity? The second option should provide a very rewarding experience upon completion … but it may not sell well. I make it sound very easy although it is really a complex situation but, if a writer decides this in the early stages then, short of changing their mind, it should highlight where their focus should be.

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        • I think you are absolutely right, Colin! When I was writing feature stories for local magazines and newspapers, I wrote exactly what the editor wanted, and they sold. But when I began writing children’s books, I wanted to follow my own heart. Sadly, I kept the editor’s thoughts imagined criticisms almost constantly in my mind, and so that meant I didn’t write what I really wanted to. But the stories didn’t sell either…it was a “lose-lose” situation. Now, I am truly writing what I want to write, and just letting the success or failure of my blog happen. It is liberating!

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          • Keep it up Ann. Being true to oneself is, I believe, extremely important. The alternative would appear to be to reach life’s end with serious regrets, and with no capacity to rectify things.

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    • I tried to, but too often I “watered them down” because I was trying so desperately to avoid potential criticism. Which is no way to create anything at all. The stories had merit, but they weren’t the best I could do. Still, there’s always tomorrow!

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  16. “Yes I/we can” – I have just finished reading Michelle Obama’s book and although she doesn’t use her husband’s phrase (or not that I remember) she’s very keen on “Am I worth it? Yes, I am!” Also passing that message on to others. But you’re right, I think you have to be of a certain age to truly believe it.

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    • That’s a wonderful message to tell ourselves and to tell others. But you’re right, it is so hard to believe it when we are young. With age (along with sagging skin and bad eyesight) comes acceptance, and thank goodness for that! We need something positive at this stage of our lives!

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  17. I can certainly relate, Ann. I still frequently have to adjourn that committee of naysayers in my head, and “just do it”, whatever it is. Looking back on my life, it is mostly the times that I didn’t do something that I regret, not the times I tried and failed or looked foolish.

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    • Exactly, Joe! My regrets are almost all about the things I didn’t do, rather than the things I did, even if they didn’t work out so very well. Fear can limit us in so many unnecessary ways, which is why we need to get those negative thoughts out of our heads!

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    • Oh, thank you! I think this is something that all writers can relate to. But you’re right, the pieces we like best as an author are not necessarily the pieces that are most popular with our readers. And that’s okay! Especially once we learn to trust our own judgement!

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  18. I would have been a writer, an author, years earlier if I had the self-confidence I have now, Ann. I’d also have dressed differently (more ‘hippie,’ not so conservative) and danced more (I now attend a dance/exercise class that makes me laugh and giggle out loud). I’d have meditated more and allowed my dreams to expand. But yes, self-confidence grows with wisdom, including the wisdom to not care what others think, but instead to do what feels good inside.

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  19. I suspect if most of us get better at self-acceptance as we age, it’s because we have a better idea of what our “self” is, and what it’s capable of. Works wonders for the confidence – until we step out of our comfort zone.

    Of course we need to step out of that zone from time to time, if just a little, to keep growing.

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    • You’re right, time does give us the chance to know ourselves better. And we do need to keep stepping out of our comfort zones if we want to continue to grow and discover new things about ourselves and the world around us. May we always have that courage!

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    • It is so hard, isn’t it? I imagine especially for you since you are writing films that are actually being produced…I’m sure the pressure to stick to the formula is strong. But I’m glad you have found your voice and that you’ve been successful with it!

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  20. Ann,
    I relate to what you have shared here. I admire your effort to become conscious of your inner narrative and commiserate with rewriting the negative.
    “when our internal dialogue turns too negative, we aren’t really able to live our lives to their fullest potential. And that’s a tragedy that none of us should allow.”
    Thanks for the reminding me that I am always the author of my day.
    Make it a beautiful one.
    Ali

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  21. So well said. I have a little note above my desk that says, “Nothing to lose!” I put it there a few years back when I realized I was censoring myself as I wrote (and lived?) because I was afraid. When I finally asked myself what was I afraid of, I realized none of it mattered. Being embarrassed? looking dumb? Sounding stupid? Big deal. None of that matters now and shouldn’t have mattered ever, but it seems to have governed much of my life and so, limited it. No more. Now I just say what I feel and let the chips fall where they want because I have nothing to lose.

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    • That’s such a great attitude, Cara! And you’re right, we so often live our lives governed by fears of things that we really don’t need to be afraid of at all. Sadly, it does seem to be a lesson we don’t learn until later in our lives. Thanks for the comment!

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  22. I really hate that inner critic/judge! Like you’ve said – it stops us from living our lives to its fullest, to explore and have fun. Believe it or not – every time I begin a new drawing or painting or whatever that inner critic is right there! It takes a lot of strength to quieten this voice, and practice too. Young children are blessed in the way that they don’t have it yet.

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    • I believe it! I think most creative people have to be intentional about tuning out their inner critic in order to actually produce their best work, or any work at all. I had a friend who was an art teacher, and she told me the hardest part of her job was getting her students to overcome their fear of having their worked judged, by others and by themselves. It’s so liberating when we can let go of that criticism, but I believe it’s a constant battle.

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      • I have exactly the same problem with my pottery students. They’re 5th and 6th graders and seem to be very self conscious when it comes to even get started with a new project. It’s as if they’re already hearing all the possible criticism their fellow students have to offer. I work very hard to take away that fear and infuse them with lightheartedness by making a clown of myself and my art sometimes. 😄

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  23. It’s so sad that the fear of criticism is in them that young! Good for you for working to take that away, and for showing by example that it’s okay to take things a little less seriously and to have fun with the creative process! I’m sure you are a great teacher!

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