Throw Out 50 Thoughts #5 – I don’t know what I’m doing

scissorsMy 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

9 comments on “Throw Out 50 Thoughts #5 – I don’t know what I’m doing

  1. Deb says:

    The key line is “All she had to do was cut a straight line.” Which my mother couldn’t, bless her. Which is why I always had crooked bangs.

    Thank you for this post. I needed it today. I’m developing a presentation for a meeting next week, and I keep running the “this information is so basic. Everyone knows this. They’re going to laugh me out of the room” tape in my head. But the fact is that, while it’s basic to me, it’s not basic to them. I know a lot more about this stuff than they do. Which is why they’re paying me to do it!

  2. Julie Leinberger says:

    Oh I am so in that place now! Thx!

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Maggie Park says:

    Me, too. The only thing I know how to do is teach English, and that job just plain sucks. So we’re off to, “Damn it! I don’t know what I’m doing”-land each day. And even if I suck, it beats the heck out of teaching English. Thanks for the oomph to keep going.

  4. elissa field says:

    I love this, Jeannine! Sadly, I am that Midwestern mother with scissors in a literal sense (my sons have forgiving hair), and in so much of what it takes to be an adult in life. It’s tough to figure out how to do everything as a mom and as a writer (or any professional). I could definitely relate and this was perfect boost for my morning.

    • elissa field says:

      Jeannine, your post figured in as part of my morning inspiration and I mentioned it in my post for the day, along with recommending people follow your blog. You are always so humorous and insightful. I really love this.

  5. Keep on doing what you’re doing, Jeannine. You are a cut above. Keep querying and proposing and eventually you will find the one who appreciates the sharpness of your words 🙂

  6. Ms. Roberts says:

    We don’t ever know what we’re doing, but isn’t not knowing what to do the beauty in life too? If someone told me how to live my life right, I would never follow a word they say.

  7. I cut my daughters’ hair! It may not turn out exactly as I envision it, but it still works. I think manuscripts are also that way; massage them into existence.

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