Most of the stuff that I’m able to do in my professional life I do, because one day I decided that I would. This means that I have a lot of contact both with the “fake it until you make it” strategy of life and often suffer from a mean case of imposter syndrome. This is also complicated by the fact that much of what I do is stuff that involves a lot of pushback in terms of present and vocal audiences — whether specialized (i.e., academic) or generalized (i.e., fandom, or even, people who watch movies).
Sometimes, I deal with this stuff well, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I do get myself in over my head; other times, I show up somewhere, by some deeply unconventional route, and discover that I’m doing really good work, worthy of the environment in question. Sometimes, something happens that’s just messy and complicated, and all I can do is register the experience, try to find data in it to learn from, and then move on.
So, while there’s lots of stuff I’m still learning about this life of presumptuousness, I have figured out some stuff, and you should benefit from it too. Your benefiting from it, of course, also happens to benefit me. More people pursuing their passions is good. More people doing that unconventionally? Makes my life way easier, because then I don’t look like that asshole who’s always shoving her foot in the door to stop someone from closing it in my face.
So first, accept that you have the right to pursue whatever it is that you want to pursue. Then accept that if a traditional route to that thing isn’t possible or desirable for you, you’re allowed to improvise a plan. Accept that the plan may or may not work, but also accept that you are awesome for having ambition and taking risk, and then go do your stuff.
Along the way, remember that you may have no damn idea what you’re doing. That’s okay. I have no damn idea what I’m doing. It means you have to listen and research and watch people around you and try to figure stuff out sometimes, but that’s not necessarily a failing. You get to be the new perspective, and you have more wiggle room to make mistakes and try new approaches. You can admit that you have no idea what you’re doing without devaluing your work. If you’re really lucky, you get to burst onto the scene.
Now, you also have to accept that you are an expert about something or bring a unique value add to the table of whatever it is you’re trying to pursue. Maybe people want to sign up for that, and maybe they don’t, but it’s real, and you’re allowed to talk yourself up. Enjoy that. You’re fabulous. And fabulous is a fun word to say. So run with it.
Don’t lie. Sometimes, do make judicious choices to omit. Do know that, that can and will bite you in the ass sometimes. Find your comfort zone. Forgive yourself when you fuck up; apologize when appropriate. Do not apologize when it isn’t. And never let anyone convince you that you owe everyone in the world a public accounting of all your flaws.
Also remember that nothing is a straight line. Not only are some days two steps forward and one step back, some days are going to be one step forward and three steps back (i.e., the agent meeting in which I was told I’d “actually be beautiful in France” or the day I made a really crappy etiquette error with an anthology, which, thankfully, involved gracious people, and thus I lived to be published).
Listen to authorities in your chosen realm(s) of pursuit; they can help you. Don’t, however, assume, that all authorities agree with each other or even have your best interests at heart. When you take non-traditional routes to achievements that may impinge on other people’s territory, you’ll get a lot of responses that are complex and don’t necessarily have a lot to do with you.
Stop. Wait. Breathe. Reassess. Is it still fun? Is it still meaningful? Are you still following your dream the way you want to be? Don’t let other people saying yes cause you to forget why you want that yes.
Still good? Okay. Then accept that the fine art of self-promotion is trial and error. Accept that it will make other people angry. Accept that, if you don’t enjoy it, it remains a necessary evil. No matter how awesome you are the world will never find out by your standing pertly to one side and hoping someone will notice. I lived a big chunk of my life that way. Doesn’t work. And while shit happens, you’re probably not going to be discovered in a diner either. That’s okay.
Meanwhile, don’t forget that the most successful people often have the luxury of being generous. So accept generosity when it’s offered to you. Also be sure to be generous with your skills and knowledge when you can, knowing that your generosity, yes, can have a side-bonus of improving your positioning.
And as much as I can tell you to never, ever let someone tell you not to go after what you want? Ignoring other people after a few deep breaths actually isn’t that hard. It’s ignoring ourselves who want to believe them, who have been trained to wait for permission to shine or desire. That’s what’s hard.
Learn to take pleasure in wanting. Get cosy with it and want big. So when stuff happens for you, whether it’s 10% of your daydreams or a 100%, you can love it.
Those are the secrets for me. Do they make the bad days better? No. Do they mean I know what to do to get back on the horse the day after the bad days? You bet. It hasn’t failed me yet.
Go want something ridiculous. Go do something fabulous. You can. In fact, it’s perfectly reasonable.
Also, report back. Consider it self-promotion.