My Mom used to cut my hair. She had a midwestern sensibility, as in “why pay someone to do something I can do myself.” She owned scissors, right? All she had to do was cut a straight line. She had three daughters. She did this a lot.
Yet, inevitably, about halfway through, I’d be sitting in the chair, and she’d do that sharp inhale thing one does when they’ve just messed up. Then she’d say, “Damn it. I don’t know what I’m doing.” She’d resume cutting and then she’d say it again. This was not reassuring. But I was trapped in the chair with no idea of how bad things would be if I actually bolted.
When it was all said and done, my hair was generally fine. (Until I asked her to give me feathered bangs. That was not a smart call on my part.) The continuous mantra of “Damn it. I don’t know what I’m doing,” however, left both my mother and I needing a drink. Only she got one.
I’ve been parroting my mother a lot lately. I’ve been writing queries and book proposals and saying, “Damn it. I don’t know what I’m doing.” It’s complicated. It’s uncomfortable. It’s stressful. I need a drink.
This is not new for me. As a consultant, when first confronted with a difficult issue, or an impossible timeline, or an outrageous request, I’d go to my office and say “Damn it. I don’t know what I’m doing.” I was sure I was one step away from getting fired. The truth, however, was that I was highly qualified for my job and good at it as well. I was probably the most qualified I will ever be to do anything in my lifetime. So I’m starting to think I’m not a very good judge of what “good enough” looks like.
In fact, as I move about my day, I see so many people oblivious to their own incompetence that it’s almost scary. But they’re happy, and they are still employed.
My mother’s tape loop of “Damn it, I don’t know what I’m doing” didn’t make the scissors any sharper, or her hand any steadier. It didn’t give her the skill of Vidal Sassoon, or give me the patience of Job. All it did was stress us both out. My tape loop is no better. All it does is freeze me in place.
I may not know everything, but I do know something. I learn a little more each day. And if ignorance alone could kill, we would have solved the population crisis long ago. So I will no longer worry about what I don’t know about writing, or publishing, or making a living as a writer. I will shut off the tape loop and write. How bad can I be? After all, you read my work and you rock.
What thought will you throw out this week?
Words by J. B. Everett
Photograph “Scissors” by Uwe Hermann © 2005 Creative Commons