So…gotta take a giant step back. When the struggle begins, I don’t stop doing what needs to get done. I continue to blog, send out emails, put reminders of the first book signing (October 18 at 1 pm, Barrington Books) up on my social networks, mail out copies of the book to contests and reviewers, and tell every single person who comes into my office about my new book. But inside, I’m a little kid, red-faced and embarrassed, standing at the front of the classroom, forced to present some school project to the class, toeing the ground, terrified to look up at a sea of faces. Inside, I protest, crying and yelling, I don’t want to do this! I, like the red-faced little kid, don’t want to have to feel that fear of being rejected, of being laughed at. I want to cling to my mommy and hide my face so I don’t have to go out there and self-promote.
When My Self-Consciousness Began
I wondered about this as these feels came to me this week. Was I always so self-conscious? Nope. Before high school, I was the center of my social circle, loved to have parties at my house, never thought twice about standing up in front of my class to do a report. Never felt any kind of social anxiety. It never dawned on me to be self-conscious. I was too busy having fun. But, then...
I remember the summer before Freshmen year, I gained weight and eventually got very fat. I felt really self-conscious around the group of girls who had been my middle school best friends. Instead of talking to my friends about my fears and anxieties, I just retreated and acted like nothing was happening (at least on the outside). I tried to hide the weight with clothing. Of course, it was no secret and hard to really hide. My solution was to run away from my group of friends because I assumed if I tried to stay, they would reject me anyway. Who wants to be friends with the girl who used to be pretty and popular but is now a loser Fat Girl? It’s awful, and it's wrong–being fat or thin, ugly or pretty, is not what makes others like you, but I was fourteen and that’s how I thought. My deeper fear was that those were the only reasons to like me–so called popularity or being pretty and thin– and since I lost that, wouldn’t they all just walk away? My fear of rejection and my embarrassment was so scary–I just avoided anything or anyone that might say “no” to me. This was all in my head, but it felt very real. That avoidance, that act of walking away before I gave my friends a chance to reject me, while it was done as an act of self-preservation, only increased my fears of rejection and my anxiety.
As the years passed in high school, I got more comfortable with myself. Yes, some of it was that I lost the weight I gained. Some of it was a new sense of being the observer in a crowd. Not being the center of attention was a relief in many ways, and I got very comfortable in that role. But I had created a phobia for myself. I avoided any kind of "putting myself out there" situation. By senior year, I had kept myself as safely away from rejection as possible–when it came to dating or friends. I avoided parties and went to a lot of dances stag. Often times, I felt lonely and limited. Why not go to a party once in awhile? Why not ask someone to a dance? Over time, I realized that if I kept avoiding embarrassment and rejection, that fear would keep growing, and I would continue to live in this little shell. I would always be and feel on the outside looking in.
So, senior year I vowed to not let embarrassment get to me and that I would do something to face my fear. I chose Senior Night, an evening of entertainment brought to the school by the Drama Club. So, I, along with some of my Drama Club cronies, got up on stage and lip synced to Aretha Franklin’s Respect…While I was up there shimmying and shaking, I realized I didn’t even care who was in the audience or what anyone thought. The idea of being self-conscious seemed so….almost narcissistic. Who am I but one individual among a sea of many? What does this moment on stage mean really? It means nothing to them, or maybe it means I’m an idiot, but what they thought didn’t matter because this moment meant I was free from fear of rejection and embarrassment. It was a pivotal moment to me. It meant I had arrived, and I was not afraid. I also realized that I had to stop obsessing over my perception of what others thought or didn't think about me. Again, I was just another person in a sea of many.
Then & Now
So what’s the connection? I guess it’s that I fear rejection now as I did when I gained weight in high school. The weight gain was something I thought other people would reject me for. Because, let’s face it, being heavy in high school is hard, even if no one makes you feel self-conscious, the reality is, you are not usually as readily accepted when you are heavy because you are “different” from everyone else.
And now, as an adult, I feel “different” in this world of publishing. I fear rejection now as I did as a teen. I’m not a “pretty and popular” (a.k.a mainstream) YA author. I’m a self-published YA author, an unknown, one who has been rejected by the mainstream publishing world, and there are not a lot of us. I fear rejection because, in my head, I think, who wants me if I am not cool, hip, “in”?
But then I think of me, at age seventeen, on stage, singing and dancing and free of the albatross of fear, of self-consciousness. I come back to my thirty-four year old self and realize that none of this– my crazy thinking, my anxieties– matters. What matters is the act of doing, of getting out there, of sharing my work and connecting with other people and the only way to do that, is self-promotion.