the panic before the party

Last Sunday, Allyn and I hosted a book launch party at our new home to celebrate the release of my short story collection, WOMAN, RUNNING LATE, IN A DRESS. {You can snag a personalized copy here!}

We’d been planning this party for months. Even before we found our new home, when we weren’t even looking at houses yet but were planning to move when our lease was up, I said to Allyn, “You know what would be cool? What if we had a combination housewarming/book launch party when my book is published?” Allyn immediately agreed it would be cool, but said what would be even better is if we left out the housewarming part and just focused on celebrating my new book. He’s teaching me more and more how to step into my own spotlight rather than feel like I need to dim my light. One of the 846,748 reasons why I love him so much. ūüôā

Once we found our house and signed the lease on our new place, planning really began in earnest. We set a date for the party and made an invitation on Facebook. We spread the word to our friends and family. I ordered cute raffle prizes featuring the book cover {coasters, a tote bag, a puzzle} and made bookmarks. We felt hugely motivated to get all of our boxes unpacked, our pictures hung on the walls, and everything organized before the party. {Which, if you’re willing to handle a bit of stress, I would totally recommend — never before have I felt “all moved in” so quickly!}

We planned out the food and the drinks, the seating and the mingling areas. I made a display of my books. Some of our guests volunteered to bring wine; others brought beer; others brought appetizers and veggies and sandwiches. The day of the party, I baked mini pumpkin muffins, set out paper plates and napkins, and organized plastic utensils into cups. I took a shower, dried my hair, carefully applied eyeshadow and mascara.

Everything looked beautiful. Everything was sparkling and clean and ready to go. Everything was exactly the way I had hoped it might be, back when Allyn and I began planning the party a month ago in our crammed-to-the-brim-with-boxes apartment.

I felt that excited, nervous energy that bubbles inside you when you are preparing to embark on something that you have been dreaming about for a very long time. Because this party wasn’t just about this one afternoon. Nor was it just about this new house we had claimed as our home, or about the 178 printed pages between two shiny covers of my published book. It was a party that had been years in the making. A party that, for a long time, I had thought would never come.

I sent out my short story manuscript for six long years before it won the Cypress & Pine Fiction Award from Yellow Flag Press and was accepted for publication. Six years of form rejection slips and crushed spirits and doubt. Six years of dreaming that, one day, I would hold this book in my hands and proudly share it with my friends and family. Six years of stubborn hope that these characters in my imagination were meant to leap into the hearts and minds of other people — that they weren’t just meant to live inside me.

And now, here I was, standing on the threshold of that day I had gazed at on the horizon of my life for so long.

My mother-in-law arrived first, bearing enormous platters of delicious sandwiches. We arranged them on the kitchen table and the island. We uncorked the wine. Then my grandparents arrived, with a cooler full of beer that we put on the back patio. We gave them the tour of the house. They helped themselves to sandwiches. Our dear friends Justin & Fawn arrived with their adorable baby boy, and it was so nice to visit with them in the kitchen, catching up on life. And yet, laughing there in the sunshine, an urgent panic began to rise within me.

What if no one else showed up? What if this party — that I had been dreaming about and working towards for so long — what if it was a total lame disappointment?

Allyn squeezed my hand. The minutes ticked by. The doorbell was silent. My phone beeped with text messages from friends and family members, explaining that they were so sorry but they could no longer make it. My panic gained strength, whispering in my ear like a mean girl in middle school:

This was a stupid idea. You never should have planned this party. You never should have put yourself out there like this. Now everyone is going to feel sorry for you. No one wanted to come to your party and no one cares about your book. You should have just stayed quiet and kept to yourself. Why did you even take this risk?

Panic doesn’t only visit us before we throw a big party. It comes whenever we try something new — when we step out of our comfort zones, launch a new venture, share something that is important to us. It comes when we express excitement about a new opportunity or decide to make a change in our lives — take time off work to travel; sign up for Whole 30; start a side-hustle; pursue a passion project. It comes when we plant our flag in the sand, stand tall in our truth, and say boldly, “This matters to me!” Because in doing so, we make ourselves vulnerable. Our high hopes might be crushed. Our beautiful plans might be met with lonely disappointment.

This inner voice of panic was familiar to me. I had felt it before many times in my life, which was actually a blessing because it helped me recognize what was happening. I spoke back to my panic. I talked my nervous heartbeat down from the ledge.

Shhh, shhh, calm down. It’s going to be okay. Look at these people around you. They came a long way to be here with you today. They’re happy for you. They’re proud of you. Focus on savoring these moments with them and loving the hell out of this experience while it is happening. This is precious and special. Right here. Right now. All the rest is just white noise from your ego. Let it go.

I think it is natural to feel that panic-before-the-party in many aspects of our lives. We make a decision focused on all the wonder and magic that might unfold, and then when we’re confronted with the messy reality we feel panicked that maybe we made the wrong decision. But I think that our inner voice of panic is actually a clue that we’re on the right path. That we’re growing.

The truth is, it would be easier to stay safe. To never risk that panic. But I don’t think “easy” is an ingredient in the recipe for a satisfying adventure in this one wild and precious life you have been given.

Another truth: so often, panic is short-sighted. It is focused on the immediate moment and spirals into despair. But so often, even when the reality is messier than you anticipated or there are a few bumps in the road, eventually things level out. You look back and realize that everything turned out even better than you had imagined it would. You are so grateful you made that leap and took that risk and tried that newness on for size. The voice of panic is completely washed away and it is easy to forget that it was ever there… until you plant another flag in the sand and the panic comes to visit again in full force.

I think panic loses its power when we recognize it as part of the process. It is simply part of the journey and we don’t have to listen to it. We can turn our head away and focus on the other voices in our hearts that are cheering us on.

Even if no one else had showed up to my party, it would not have been a disaster. It would have been a lovely intimate gathering with six of my favorite people. But more people did show up. First a slow trickle; then guests arrived all at once. Before I knew it, I looked up from arranging a bowl of fruit salad and realized our kitchen was crammed full of people, talking and eating and enjoying the afternoon. Later, everyone gathered in the living room and I read an excerpt from my book, and then champagne and Martinelli’s were poured and toasts were made. As I gazed around the room so filled with love and support, I felt tears prick my eyes. I kept thinking, This is it. This is it. This is it.¬†

This is what was waiting on the other side of the shore, during those years I swam through the cold waves of doubt and disappointment, wondering if I would ever reach that land I was striving towards.

This is what was waiting through the moments of panic and fear, uncertainty and envy, hopelessness and frustration.

This is what was waiting. And it was more than worth it.

When you finally do reach the shore — when the train does finally come — the struggle of the journey makes the celebratory champagne taste so much sweeter.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and freewrite about the questions below that speak to you:

  • When is a time you have felt the “panic before the party” in your life? What did the panic say to you? What actually happened?
  • Write about a time you took a risk, felt doubt, but pushed through to a new opportunity.
  • What is a risk you long to take in your life now? How do you yearn to grow?

when your brimming cup of tea spills all over the table

You guys, I had one of those rough days yesterday. We’ve all had them. Those days when, for some mysterious reason, Criticism¬†and Rejection and Disappointment decide to band together and visit you, one right after the other right after the other, all within the same span of 24 hours, like annoying uninvited guests who crash the perfectly lovely party you had planned.

Now, I want to say right off the bat that I know I am really lucky. My bad day did not include me, or anyone I love, becoming hurt or sick or injured. It did not include any car accidents or broken gadgets or lost items. The worst it contained in that regard was a cup of spilled tea, which I will get to in a moment.

But still, at the end of the day, I was left feeling a little bit beaten-up. A little bit discouraged. A little bit heartsick. And I want to share this with you because sometimes the Internet can be so shiny. We read these beautiful blogs with gorgeous photos and happy news and goals and milestones and that is all well and good. I love reading these inspiring blogs — they give me hope and motivate me. However, no one’s life is a highlight reel. I believe there is beauty and worth in the messiness, too. I want to show you my messiness as well as my happy dances.

fallen tree

I have been fortunate enough to have been able to pursue my dreams of writing and teaching for more than a decade now. At this point, I have learned to expect rejection. When I send out a short story or query an editor about an article idea, I prep myself for disappointment as soon as I press the “send” button. Rejection is¬†the price of admission to creativity, as one of my favorite writers says. Every “no” you receive is one step closer to a “yes.” I believe in that, deeply. So rejections don’t normally bother me too much, even when they come in a string one right after the other.

But lately, I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Inspired by the amazing Whitney at sometimes.always.never, I have given myself a goal of taking one small risk every single day. Applying for programs and opportunities that I might have otherwise talked myself out of. Putting¬†myself out there, reaching¬†out to people I admire, sending that email, submitting that idea for a speaking gig, because, I ask myself … what do you have to lose? Nothing.¬†

Let me tell you, friends, that is a terrific space to be living and creating in. I have felt very inspired the past month since I started doing this. I am feeling more empowered in my creativity. I am filled with more optimism and ideas. While sometimes I am still anxious to take these little risks, as a whole I am finding myself embracing the unknown more than I would have thought possible. My life has felt full-to-the-brim with opportunity.

But something that I wasn’t anticipating was what it would feel like when these new little risks ended in rejection. For some reason, the disappointment feels more acute. I haven’t braced myself for it in the same way I prepare myself for rejections of my writing pieces. Maybe my skin hasn’t had time to grow thick enough yet, in this new space I am occupying, outside of my comfort zone.

So yesterday, when I received two perfunctory rejections to neat¬†opportunities I had excitedly¬†thrown my hat in the ring for, in addition to a rejection of one of my short stories from a literary journal… it stung. It really stung. I felt that pit of disappointment yawn open in my stomach. That awful feeling of not being good enough hovered around the outskirts of my consciousness like a dark cloud threatening rain. I think we all have that feeling sometimes. You can be a confident, strong, empowered person, and still have those moments when you doubt yourself.

What I’ve found works best for me is not to give those doubts any extra power by tapping into anger or jealousy. I repeat to myself, over and over in my head, that I am worthy and I am enough, exactly as I am. That I don’t need any accolades or rewards to make myself matter. And, after the initial sting has calmed¬†down a little, I reach down¬†into¬†that place of compassion and generosity inside myself. I try to open it wider, like a valve being loosened. And yes, when I push myself to try, I truly can feel others’¬†joy. I can feel joy for the people who did receive the opportunities that I was rejected from, because they worked very hard and are incredibly deserving. Just as¬†I know that one day in the future — as has happened in the past — I will be on the receiving end of an acceptance letter. There will be other people who receive rejection letters. I would want them to be happy for me.¬†This is what it means to me to practice abundance, not scarcity. To celebrate the joys for each other.

water-redwoods

Yesterday, I was teaching a private writing lesson for two of my favorite students. Everything was going wonderfully — they were super into the lesson, writing their creative stories with abandon, pencils flying across their lined notebook paper. We have our weekly lessons at the kitchen table and their mother always sweetly pours me a cup of tea to enjoy. On this day, mine was filled to the brim. It was sitting on the kitchen table, cooling down. One of my students had a question, and as I reached over to take a look at her paper, my arm bumped the mug of tea … and it spilled all over the table. I mean, ALL over the table, my friends. I leaped up and grabbed the mug, but the damage had already been done. My students’ papers were soaked through.

I felt mortified. I felt ashamed. I felt disappointed in myself. I felt stupid. I felt SO bad for spilling that tea!

But my students taught me something. They are only nine and eleven years old, but they possess so much grace.

“I’m so sorry, you guys!” I said. “I can’t believe I just did that!”

“It’s okay, Miss Dallas,” they said. And I could sense it immediately — they weren’t upset. They grabbed some paper towels and rags from the laundry room, and together we cleaned up the mess. I blotted their papers with towels and set them on the counter to dry. They weren’t ruined after all, just wet. Once they dried, they would be fine.

However I was still annoyed with myself, feeling aggravated and to-blame for¬†the disruption. “I’m so sorry, you guys,” I said again.

“It’s okay, Miss Dallas,” said the nine-year-old boy, a seriousness in his voice that I rarely hear. (Usually he is full of laughter and playfulness.) “It was a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes.” And he proceeded to tell me about the time he spilled an entire bowl of soup on his lap.

“Plus, now it smells nice in here — like green tea!” his sister chimed in.

Even as I type this, I have tears in my eyes. I want to¬†treat myself with as much forgiveness and gentleness and understanding as those two wonderful kids showed me. When, metaphorically, my brimming mug of piping hot tea spills all over the table — when I feel disappointed, or criticized, or rejected, or frustrated — I want to respond the way they did. With calm. With love. With a shrug of the shoulders. With the knowledge that it’s going to be okay.

Together, we dried off the table. We got out fresh sheets of lined paper. They kept writing.

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So, do you know what I’m doing today? I’m picking myself up, dusting myself off, and starting over again. I’m¬†still pushing myself to take those small daily risks. I’m still going after those opportunities that seem out of my reach, out of my comfort zone. I’m still trying my best to learn and grow and push myself every single day, even when it is painful. Even when it is hard. Even when it is scary. Because it is still worth it, always.

Oh! And¬†in case you’re wondering, I did learn another lesson from that mug of spilled tea. As I sit here at my desk, I’m drinking my green tea out of a travel mug. With the lid on. ūüėČ

mid-week meditation #3

And just like that, it’s already Wednesday! You know what that means: it’s time for my¬†new blog series¬†mid-week meditations!¬†Each week, I‚Äôll try to post a quote or question to think about as you go about your busy day. I hope it brings you solace and gratitude as it does for me!

This week’s meditation comes from my dad, who sent me this quote in an email:

thoreau quote.jpg

If you’re looking for a beautiful guided meditation relating to this topic, I love this one by Heather Waxman¬†on radiance and transformation.

Questions of the morning:

  • What disappointments have you faced¬†in your life lately?
  • What compensations might you find amidst the pain, frustration and sadness?