Perfection, rejection and self doubt.

IMG_1635.PNGHi, there. I’m a perfectionist.

This poses problems in many areas of life, but most obviously right now is my new career choice.

Freelance writing is not a place for perfectionists. It’s a business full of rejection and, for much of my life, rejection has been akin to failure. So I knew taking this path would challenge my ability to be, well, nice to myself in the face of anything short of success.

My first rejection came today, and this blog post is probably how I’m working through it.

The first story I want to write is quite personal. In March, at 34 years old, I had a moderate stroke caused by a tear in my right vertebral artery (one of the arteries that winds through your vertebrae on its way to your brain). In the days before my stroke, a chiropractor cracked my neck. I’ve learned, since, that there is an undeniable connection between chiropractic neck adjustments, vertebral artery tears and strokes in otherwise healthy, young people. I also went through some pretty horrible and negligent care at the EMS and emergency room level that might have had something to do with healthcare providers not thinking about a stroke in someone my age.

So this story is a big one for me. It’s a little bit comeback and a lot of catharsis. And when I pitched it last night for the first time, I felt really good about it.

I got rejected this morning.

My instinct was to assume I messed up the pitch, and maybe I did. I have never really had to pitch stories before. As a beat writer, your material is always happening right there in front of you. So I’m new at this, and I know as time passes I will learn what a good query looks like. My next instinct was to email my pitch to my husband, so he could tell me if he thought I should change things.

In addition to perfectionism I deal with something I know is so common in women: I constantly feel I have no clue what I’m doing, and I’m terrified everyone will suddenly realize it. Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes labeled this the “Imposter Phenomenon” in the 1970s. It’s basically when you spend tons of time wondering when people are going to figure out that you are a complete fraud. (Sound like you? You can take Clance’s assessment here: http://paulineroseclance.com/pdf/IPTestandscoring.pdf)

This did not serve me well during my time covering baseball. I would spend hours beating myself up if a mistake made it into the paper, and I had a hard time sleeping many nights, obsessively going over my copy in my head. In my worst moments, I would get up at 4 a.m., even though there was nothing I could do about any errors by then, turn on my laptop and go over my stories once more. Add that anxiety to the fact that my email address was right at the bottom of every story I wrote, making it nice and easy for readers to let me know how inept they found me, and it made for some pretty harsh self talk and what I now realize were panic attacks.

Being a beat writer is pressure packed. By the time a game was over and I had been down to the locker room for interviews and back up to the press box, I often had only 15 minutes to transcribe any quotes and write my entire story. It was hard. And I was even harder on myself.

My husband used to be a writer, too, and he was incredible. I still Google his old work sometimes, just so I can remember how great he was. He knew I had these anxieties, so especially when I was on a road trip and he was home, he would get up in the morning and read my stories with his coffee and send me an email listing all of his favourite lines from my work the night before. It meant the world to me, and those messages were some of the sweetest things he’s ever done for me.

But on too many days I felt like I couldn’t breathe until I got his email, and for the first four years of my five covering baseball, my own validation was never enough. By my fifth and final season I started to believe I deserved to be there, that my voice and my observations were worthy of my position. But just when I was finally convincing myself of my ability, life went in another direction and my beat writer days were done.

This time around I need to stand on my own. I need my confidence to come from within, not from my husband or my editors or my readers. I have to believe in what I am doing enough to do it with my own voice as my most weighty influence. This time around, I deserve to believe in myself.

So I didn’t wait to hear from my husband about my pitch this morning. I sat down at my computer with my 4-year-old on my lap, reworked my query and sent it to another editor at another publication.

So here’s to pitch #2. And, if need be, pitches #3 and #4 and #5 and …