Who Do I Think I Am? (Bonus Chapter Part 2)
*Before diving in here, be sure to start with Part 1 on the Blog here.*
Even with my renewed and purposeful determination, other voices kept muddying the waters. Just like my professional transition, I was finding myself lacking a clear plan, and for the book, that meant I still couldn’t decide what the heck I would actually write. I could not for the life of me create a stinking book outline – a necessary roadmap for any book to find its beginning, middle, and end.
Trying to figure out why I couldn’t get to the clarity despite the desire was tough. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that somewhere down deep I continued to feel like a fake, and that was holding me back. I’d felt this way before and was told that I exhibited, like many women, tendencies of someone with imposter syndrome. So, I Googled it. And what I found described people who seemed to have an inability to internalize their accomplishments and had a fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
There are many articles about imposter syndrome that show how many high achievers share this deep-down feeling that their accomplishments were nothing more than luck and surely not because of their actual skills and abilities. I cannot tell you how many times in my career as a CPA and even when I was a partner that I told my husband, “Eventually, they’ll figure it out. They’ll figure out that I don’t know anything. I have somehow pulled the wool over their eyes, but they’ll see one day.”
Looking back, those sentiments make me sad. Some part of me couldn’t believe that I had talent. That I was a smart, capable woman, even when I had proven that I really was all of those things. But here I was again, feeling like a fake, questioning and judging not only my accomplishments to date but also my worthiness to write and share my story. Could I really be an expert in growth, in potential, in dreams, in improving lives? How could I put my life up for others to see? How could I give them a shortlist of ways they could make their lives better and maybe even more like mine?
Another theory swirling in my mind on why I couldn’t find clarity was because I was straddling the line. What line? An imaginary one where I had one foot squarely in a firm and a profession of my past and present and the other in the future land of my dreams of entrepreneurship. One of my friends said they thought that once I had both feet on one side of the line, the words would come.
My project development editor, Kat, would say similar things, telling me to keep going and keep trying to express myself. She gave me more exercises to work through and agreed when I’d ask for more deadlines or breaks. She was kind and patient in this time when I felt divided and told me the clarity would come, just like my friend had said. I chose to believe them both.
I decided to believe that the book would happen. I would figure it out, somehow, someday. I was new to chasing dreams, but I was learning the lesson that dreams have their own timeline. Some come easy and fast, others are grueling and take years. I didn’t know where my book would fall in that continuum, but I knew it was worth the effort. So I just kept producing words on the page and sending them to Kat. I took it slow and steady, one day at a time.
For months off and on, I wrote lots of words. I’d send them in. I’d get comments back. I didn’t rush to review them or make edits or revisions. I didn’t have it in me to care for it like you would any other living thing. I know a book is not a living thing, but this book, my book, had for sure taken on a life of its own.
It didn’t respond well to misdirection, or really, no direction at all. It didn’t respond well when I’d try to force words out on a page. It wasn’t going to grow unless I gave it the love and attention it needed. Much like a child, I believe that it desperately wanted to know that it was loved and safe. It operated better with boundaries and routine, and I was given the charge of making sure those things were in place.
But in the same way, I did with my own newborns, when there was no one there to tell me exactly how to do it, I was finding myself terrified of this book. I had lost control (or never really had it to begin with). It was just a bit too much freedom for me to manage. And I was chaining myself down with fear.
Then in August 2017, about four months back at work after an eight-week sabbatical and amidst my personal search for the next steps in my professional journey, I took one of my friend’s offers for a free hour of coaching with her and her business partner. For an hour and a half, I answered questions about my why (seemed everyone loved Simon Sinek), my passions, my needs, my wants, and on and on. All along, they listened. I have much love for people who are trained, certified, or even just natural-born listeners and coaches. These are people that I have found want what’s best for you; they have a way of being very honest about what might be holding you back.
This coaching team was no different. In some final thoughts, one of them shared,
“Dena, you seem to be terrified of the blank page.”
When he said it, it seemed like such a casual observation, but it literally blew my mind.
The blank page.
Terrified of the blank page.
I jotted it down in my pages of notes from the call and couldn’t let go of the words for days. We hadn’t only talked about my book, so he wasn’t just speaking to that. I think he was also referring to my professional aspirations. A new business, an unfinished manuscript – there were lots of blank pages that I didn’t know how to fill in. I had yet to admit to myself how fearful I was, and now I was being told point-blank by a total stranger that he could sense I was scared. He knew that it was holding me back from my potential. Ouch.
When I sat in his observation long enough, it didn’t take long to feel it. The fear was new and intense and yet all the same as I had experienced it before in my life. I was scared I couldn’t conquer the intellectual challenge the book presented. It was a creative challenge. I was trained and skilled in following laws and regulations and completing checklists. I was a logical thinker by trade. The book and a leap into entrepreneurship – those were challenges to my resolve, my nerve, my determination, my grit.
My mind was spinning.
What if I can’t actually do this? What if I can’t do something that I said I would do? What if it sucks? What if I look dumb? What if my message doesn’t translate? What if I write or say something that hurts someone’s feelings, or share something that causes someone pain? What if no one buys it or hires me? What if I fail? What if I am a failure?
It was hard to swallow. And I don’t mean just figuratively, but quite literally. At the same time as all this was going down, I’d begun having pretty intense neck pains. I was still practicing yoga and had even started working out with a trainer again. I had always had a tendency to tense my neck up too much as I pumped iron, but this was more than that. I couldn’t shake it.
When I was in session with my rockstar therapist, Jules, one day, my throat literally almost closed up. Words wouldn’t come out. She talked me through how our bodies always reflect something we are processing. I believed this to be true, so I went straight home to find my other therapist who lives in one of my favorite books, You Can Heal Your Life. It was time to check-in and see what Louise Hay might have to say about all this neck business.
And true to my present reality, Louise suggested that probable causes included refusing to see other sides of a question, stubbornness, inflexibility. The throat was an avenue of expression, Louise said, a channel of creativity. So throat issues might be caused by stifling creativity or refusing to change. Alright, I hear you, Ms. Louise. I had to either try something new or stay stuck in this mess.
I chose to start with affirmations, repeating these words to try and create new patterns of thought in my mind:
I speak up for myself with ease.
I am willing to change.
There are endless ways of doing things and seeing things.
I am safe.
Just a few days after that coaching call, I came home to an empty and quiet house. And I had an idea. I went and grabbed the cool sketchbook that my friend, Veronica, had given me. It was a bright turquoise and covered in hedgehogs. Hedgehogs were about focus, intention, and direction. And I was looking for those exact things.
With my sketchbook in hand, a mason jar full of colorful Paper Mate Flair Pens, and a handful of pencils, I snuggled into my bed with You’ve Got Mail on in the background. I opened the cover and saw the blank page.
I had a choice: try to balance my freedom with my fear or try to balance the unknown results with the known dreams.
I made my decision with my pencil. I started jotting down words, drawing pictures, doodling doodles. Page after page, I proved that I could conquer the blank page. I just had to start!
I was proud of myself. I was texting friends, longing to share pictures of my work and claim my victory over the blank page. I started to sketch out my dreams on empty pages. I knew that reality wouldn’t look exactly like what was there, but it was a start. I’d never gotten this far before. The ideas had swirled in my mind, and the words had spewed out, but I hadn’t written them down until now. It was progress.
It was a slow, intentional first step into my creativity and the freedom that came with it. And even though it was in pencil and could quickly be erased, it felt permanent to me. I knew that God and the Universe were smiling. I knew what it was like when I had a moment of pride for my children. My heart would burst, and I could barely contain myself. I believe in my heart of hearts that there was for sure a little happy dance and booty shake going on up in Heaven as this little child of God doodled her dreams for the first time!
I was now armed with Dena Jansen’s Dream Journal (just as I had written my name and sketchbook title on the inside cover). But what did I do next? I had yet another choice. Did I trust myself to know whether I was ready or not? Did I trust myself to commit to the book? Could I dedicate myself to the work it was going to take? Could I loosen the strings of attachment I had to what the book might mean for my ultimate success or failure? I’d started and stopped so many times. Could I start again and stay with it? Could I have a healthy relationship with it?
I asked and waited to see what answers would whisper back.
Yes, ma’am, you can do this.
I trusted my gut and requested another meeting with Kat and the book company to start the ball rolling again. I was ready to make it a priority again and use all the available resources to continue down the path of writing and one day publishing my story. I think – no, I know – that I wanted (and continue to want) to be really proud of myself for doing something crazy hard. I want to admire my effort in doing something that didn’t come naturally to me—something that I had to buckle down and learn.
I was ready to test my own resolve, even though I knew it might be painfully challenging at times. But Romans 5:3-5 assured me that “We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that sufferings produce perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope! And hope doesn’t disappoint us!”
Hope was back in my sights, and so was the shelf where I wanted my book to sit.
Sometimes you find out what you want by knowing what you don’t want. That was part of how I figured out my book’s final intended category. I was on the phone with a man who’d started and subsequently sold a book company, gleaning lessons of the trade that he was kindly willing to offer. Somewhere in the conversation, he provided this piece of advice, “Just fix other people’s problems!”
The sudden and intense feeling of disgust that I felt told me something. My book wasn’t going to have five simple steps to fix yourself, your life, your marriage, and your career. Heck no! I was not about to take on that role or put myself in that position of authority if I was trying those things out on myself first. No, I couldn’t write with the intention of fixing people with a set list of commands or routines defined only by me. I had worked hard to loosen the ties of codependency in my life, so diving into a book where I’d be focused on improving other people’s success, happiness, and growth? Um, no. Couldn’t do it. Self-help, as it turns out, was not my thing.
I still had one other option to consider: a memoir.
It could work, but my story didn’t seem to fit in or measure up the other stories I saw as I had walked the shelves of them at the bookstore. My life looked pretty dull compared to the covers showing men and women that had been real-life heroes or survived real-life disasters, superstars that had survived cancer, corporate executives that had found balance in their multi-multi-million dollar homes and business. My life simply didn’t compare. Or did it?
I was so close to accepting that I had a story to tell. I started to believe that my story, my growth, my life might actually be worth sharing, too. It wasn’t the stories of my heroes – Louise Hay, Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle Melton, Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Hollis, Jen Sincero, or Oprah Winfrey. It was mine. Sure, nobody knew my name, but my life and story still mattered. It still had the power and potential to speak to other women like me.
I’d even had a few nudges from God reminding me that my heroes weren’t the only heroes out there. On a couple of occasions, I found myself having this exchange with other women.
You know Brene, right? I’d say.
And she’d respond. No, never heard of her.
I was always astounded. But in this world, we have lots of people with lots of stories and lots of lessons to teach us, and it can’t be left to just a select few to guide the masses. Every person that wants to seek will find their guides, just as I had found mine. I knew there were lots of other guides out there that I hadn’t ever heard of and might not ever, but I believed their stories mattered. They had served someone else along their journey.
My story could help someone, too. It was the story of the last few years of my life. Years where I went from a dull, unhappy version of me to a more vibrant, fulfilled, and free spirit. Years where I experienced a soul awakening and drove myself through massive amounts of personal growth, making new choices all along the way in my work, my home, and my relationships. My story was worth sharing.
I decided I would write and share my story to allow anyone seeking to find it. I’d write because I felt called to share my personal journey of growth into a stronger, happier, grittier version of myself with deeper, real connections to people in my life. I was, in both word and deed, continuing to live out my Meant for More concepts in my own life and was ready to share how it all went down.
It was exciting that for the first time, in my mind’s eye, I could finally imagine women wearing their favorite comfy, stretchy pants, holed up with a hot coffee (or chai, since that’s my personal favorite) and opening the pages of my book that they’d somehow stumbled upon. These were women who were asking if what they were experiencing was all their life had to offer. These were women who had dreams of a higher quality of life and somehow instinctively knew it was possible for them.
I could imagine them reading my stories and realizing they were not alone. That another woman had been where they are, aching for more connection to themselves and their loved ones. I could imagine these women proving that they were brave enough to do something about it. I could imagine them reading and learning what they alone need to…and then, even better, I could imagine them making new or different choices.
They’d make choices that would move them from one mindset to another. Choices that would move them from an unhealthy place to a healthier one. Decisions that reminded them that their life mattered and that they deserved to have all of their dreams come true. And even if their dreams didn’t come true or changed over time, these women simply kept going because they believed in their potential. They had the heart to stay in the game, and they could hear me saying, “You’ve got this! Keep going!”
I finally trusted myself and believed I was ready and capable of sharing my story creatively and transparently. I accepted the challenge of becoming an open channel for my stories to pass through. Thoughts and order would come to me at some point, and I would receive them willingly. I would fill many blank pages.
I was ready to explore and have fun, ready to enjoy the process of writing, remembering, and reflecting. I was prepared to consider Kat’s personal challenge she’d written to me in an email one night:
“Your future has a book in it, in which YOUR NAME appears on the cover. Full stop. It’s happening. Your future has the title ‘Author’ in it. Full stop. This is incredibly exciting stuff–and the challenge, I think, for you, is to accept this role just as you finally accepted that you were meant for more!”
It didn’t take me long to think about her challenge.
I was ready.
I was ready to listen to my internal cheerleader.
You’ve got this! Keep going!
I considered her challenge one final time and made my choice.
Challenge accepted, Kat, the Editor. Lovingly signed, Dena, the Author.