Monday, July 28, 2014

Accepting Inadequacy

I'm not delusional.

I know I'm far from being the best writer among my peers.

I just thought I was good enough to be somewhere near the best. Or at least good enough to continue writing at work. 

For the longest time, I've received plenty of glowing praise for my writing. Friends and fellow writers said they loved my stuff. Hell, even a few strangers sent me pleasant words of encouragement.

Of course, there were a few criticisms as well. And I took them well enough at first. 

You see, I've been told repeatedly over the past year that there's a certain awkwardness to my writing. I consider it just part of my style, but apparently, it's bad enough to be unreadable and unpleasant for some people. 

So I listened. I scoured the web for additional copywriting tips and techniques. I ruthlessly edited my work. I began seriously analyzing and de-constructing my favorite writers' styles.

By the time March arrived, I've noticed how much better my new writing style had become. I've managed to cut down on my adverbs. I didn't write too many exaggerated metaphors and forced jokes anymore. It became easier for me to get to the point. I was happy with the improvements.

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. All that work to make myself a better writer turned out to be an exercise in futility. I just couldn't eliminate the awkwardness in my sentence construction. Basically, I lacked the fundamental ability to write like a normal human being. No matter how hard I tried and how much better I became, the same flaws would inevitably re-appear, like the god damn zits on my face. 

In short, I still sucked. And I couldn't accept it.

Naturally, I was furious. I felt like all my efforts had been invalidated, that I was unappreciated. I hated the fact that my work, which I considered superior to my peers, was not in fact better. All those improvements just made my work more readable. But it was not better. I was just another victim of ownership bias.

At that time, I didn't take responsibility for my own shortcomings. I lashed out, and I blamed the subjectivity of people's tastes. I thought I was being forced to write a certain way. A way that was closer to how my mentor wrote. A way that had more to do with his inimitable style than the actual importance of making people understand what you're saying.

I thought it was ridiculous. How hypocritical! How dare you tell us to be true to ourselves when you wouldn't let me write the way I want? You're just biased towards your own personal style and preferences! How can you say with a straight face that x person's work is better than mine? Isn't getting the message across the most important thing? These were the thoughts that swam in my head for weeks.

In my defense, I was really angry. And angry people are never rational. No matter how smart or well-adjusted you think you are, extreme emotions will always mess with your head. 

I mean, do you know what it feels like to be told you're not good enough at the thing you thought you did best? That your improvements didn't change the fact that you have a fundamental inability to write like a regular person?

Do you know how it feels to know that your shortcomings are probably unfixable? That your skills are good enough for almost everywhere else, except for the one place that matters to you? 

Do you know how it feels like when the place and person you love working for tell you that you can't do what you love anymore? That it's better to quit instead of forcing yourself to fit into the position you can't see yourself without?

These truths were the toughest pills I've ever swallowed in my life. I could either leave or live with it. Simple as that. It didn't matter how many friends I made, how much I loved working there, or how many good ideas I've contributed. It didn't matter that more people loved my work than those who didn't. If I wanted to stay, I had to accept that I'm just not good enough at writing.

Man, typing out those sentences was painful. Fuck, I'm still a little angry as I type this.

But through all those nights of bitter, angry contemplation, I realized something more worrying than my career crisis: an identity crisis. This is not me. I am not a self-centered, immature jerk with self-esteem issues. I am not the the guy that blames others for my own fuck-ups. That's exactly the type of person I hate the most, and I had somehow become just that.

I knew right then that this couldn't continue. If there's one thing my stupid pride can't take, it's becoming what I hate. I just can't forgive myself if that happens.

Thankfully, I've slowly regained some clarity over the past few weeks. I constantly remind myself to forget the past and ditch the ego when it came to work. I slowly became less attached to my creations. It didn't hurt me as much to see that my work wasn't good enough, despite rewriting the same goddamn piece of copy over and over again for three days. Writing became just another inconsequential task to me. It was no more disheartening than running out of your favorite hot sauce brand at the grocery. Why? Because there were always other brands. Likewise, there were other things I was good at, even though they're not nearly at the same level as my writing.

By now, I've accepted the simple fact that I'm probably just not cut out to be a copywriter (at least not in my current company). And that's okay. It's actually kind of liberating. I no longer needed to define myself as such, because I don't need to be one anymore. I can try other things now, which is honestly scary. Because if it turns out I also suck at everything else, I'd be essentially useless. 

But the more I think about it, the less terrified I get. Because thanks to all that self-inflicted torment, I remembered something I forgot. Something I hope to never bury deep in my mind again.

I remembered that I am my own master. That I've never been afraid to take new paths, wherever they might lead. Just 2 years ago, I never imagined I'd be lucky enough to be where I am now.

So who knows where I'll be in the next 5 years? Guess I'll have to wait and see.

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