Last year I finished a biography of Audrey Hepburn and overall it was a delight. I've never been a huge fan of hers but I'd stumbled across an old interview on YouTube that ignited my curiosity.
She was near the end of her life and had granted Barbara Walters a rare conversation on camera, and something about her presence and her answers felt familiar. It was like we were the same person in some way or had lived something of the same life. I knew her. Or I knew how she felt. If she hadn't died in 1993 I might have thought maybe I was her if I'd existed here before.
So I ordered the book.
It turns out she was, in fact, just like me. She was a multifaceted human being with a range of emotions who loved animals, was rather easily bruised, and dreamed of having a garden. And also like me, her life was a constant grasping at happiness amidst a deluge of misfortunes, heartaches and childhood scars. I don't think she ever quite got there.
I was struck by something she was quoted as saying toward the end of the book. And this was that even at her age (60 years old), she still suffered from an extraordinary case of stage fright anytime she had to perform or make a speech. She also said that she was not alone in this nervousness and that every real artist she'd worked with seemed to have his or her own version of it.
Gary Cooper's hands used to sweat while he acted. Cary Grant worried himself sick over his performances.
It made me feel like my recurring feelings of doubt about my work, my non-linear overall progress, and my almost constant feelings of inadequacy aren't so abnormal after all. Maybe nerves are universal. Maybe they're just part of the deal if you want to strive for big goals in the game of life.
Last week I picked up my latest book manuscript and tried to continue writing. When I couldn't do that because it seemed like I didn't have anything else to say, I started editing it instead. Maybe, I thought, I'd simply reached the end.
I was plunking along and then quit in frustration. I wrote a blog post, then I think I cried a little bit, and then I pulled up my pants and started working on it again.
I know that I will fight many negative feelings as I continue on my journey as a writer, and I know that I will probably want to give up on my work again. In fact, I can almost predict that I'll throw my hands up in disgust and put my latest project away for another few months before gathering enough courage to come back to it. This seems to be my pattern.
But the knowledge that what I'm feeling isn't unique or odd is nice. The knowledge that others have felt the way I feel and have still gone on to success is enormously helpful.
Thanks, Audrey, for the lesson.
My first book, Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife, will be published in 2020. To be notified when it is available for purchase, sign up for my mailing list.
The Big Pause