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 …

A return to words

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I remember this day so clearly. I was so pregnant (see my belly sticking out from behind that jersey?). It was so hot out — the end of July in Minnesota. And it was the last day I covered a baseball game, something I had been doing for five years. I remember asking my last questions, transcribing my last quotes, saying goodbyes, writing my last game story and calling the copy desk one last time to check for questions.

And I remember walking, alone, out of the Target Field press box, into the humid, heavy Minnesota summer night air, meeting my husband at a nearby restaurant and sobbing. A sort of very embarrassing, very public type of sobbing. The kind you do when you know something is really, truly over.

This picture is of a previous life.

It was more than seven years ago now. I was 27 years old and walking away from my career. In the eight weeks after this photo was taken, I quit my job, had my first baby and moved to a new city in a new country where I had no friends and no family, save for my husband and my 5-week-old son.

I didn’t have any idea when I sobbed that night over sushi what I was really crying about. Covering baseball was a hard job, but I understood, going into it, what I was getting myself into. Long hours, no days off, trying to reason with people who don’t want to talk to you (yes, I now realize this sounds a lot like parenting). I had spent months telling myself I was ready for a change, that I couldn’t be the mom I wanted to be as a beat writer, that moving to a new country for my husband’s job was going to be an amazing adventure!

And I was right, in part. I couldn’t keep covering baseball and be a mom. I would have been miserable. What I didn’t expect is what no 27-year-old does — that life is hard and complicated, beautiful and sad, full of joy and full of heartache, often all at the same time, that marriage is so very hard and parenting breaks you wide open.

But two months after I said goodbye to my career, I was naive enough to be excited as I stood in line to board a plane to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, with my 5-week-old son strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn. (I realize many people don’t know where Calgary is. It’s north of Montana, on the eastern slope of the Canadian Rockies. My favorite story about Americans having no idea where I live happened at the dentist a week before we left Minnesota. I told my hygienist I was about to move to Canada, specifically Calgary. She asked me, “Oh, what providence is that in?”)

I had no idea what was waiting for me in Calgary, and thank goodness I didn’t. In the years since that day, I developed often-debilitating anxiety, I learned about trauma and real loss and that parenting is basically realizing more each day how little I knew about babies, about people and about life.

I found that I could hate life and love it at the same time.

Today I have a 7-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, and mostly I still have no clue what I’m doing. But lately I have started to come back to life. To my life. To the person I was all those years ago, crying in that sushi restaurant for something I understood on some subconscious level — I was already mourning a life I would never get back.

Parenting changes you on such a fundamental level. And for me that has born out in a lot of ways. The most profound, maybe, is that after spending all of high school knowing I wanted to be a journalist, after pursuing that singular profession in college, after having internships at the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe, after graduating from the University of Kansas and getting my dream job — which was covering the baseball team I grew up listening to on the radio during summertime crop checks with my dad in our beat-up crew-cab pickup while he drank a Miller Lite and I stuck my face out the open passenger-side window to smell the freshly-cut alfalfa — I walked away and put it away and stopped writing entirely.

What I have loved, always, about journalism is telling other people’s stories. One (big) thing that’s kept me from writing for so many years, is that I don’t know how to tell my own. Or why anyone would want to read it. Even as I type this, I’m not sure I can do it. Or that anyone would or should care to read what I have to say.

But maybe it’s time to just put it out there in the universe. To see if my brain can still function in a way that doesn’t involve my kids and their schedules and who hit who and did he eat enough vegetables today and what will happen if she subsists on milk alone and how much screen time is enough and how much is too much?

So here I am, 35 years old, with a blank space on my resume that surpasses the number of years I actually wrote after college, starting over again. Trying to figure out if I have interesting things to say, if anyone wants to read them, and if any editors want to publish them.

In this blog space, I’m going to share my successes and my failures as I try to reenter the professional world. And I’m going to write about myself. I’m going to do my best to be real, to tell you stories about my life and my failures and my stay-at-home mom guilt and my woman guilt and my feminism guilt and how motherhood has opened up all of these doors of being guilty about things I never even considered I could feel guilty for!

Some of it will be funny, I hope. Some of it will be sad. Some of it will be about panic attacks in the grocery store checkout line, and some of it will be about when my daughter talks about her vulva in very public places, like in line at the amusement park. It will be about how I go to bed so many nights worried I am totally screwing up my kids, how other nights I lie awake overwhelmed by what I’ve given up to be a mom, and how, on other nights still, my kids fall asleep with their head on my chest or their hand in mine and I know that no matter what I gave up, it’s all been worth it.

About how, basically, I’m just like you.

If you’ve read this far, thanks. I hope you’ll stick around.

– Kelsie