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The other day I spent most of my afternoon in the unemployment department. And something interesting happened.
If you've never had to file for unemployment, you aren't missing out on much. I spent most of my weekend filling out necessary online forms and overanalyzing my previous work experience so much it made my eyes go numb.
When I walked in and the first thing I noticed was the quiet. There were only a handful of people there, of course, and most seemed just as troubled about being there as me. Some looked a bit more scraggly than others. Others seemed a bit surprised and put off to even be there. Those were the ones who felt the need to justify their presence there. They had conversations with the unemployment department staff that ran along thelines of, "I have a job lined up, so I really don't need to be here..." or "This is only temporary..." The staff reassured them, with the same type of understanding you would give to a child insisting that Santa Claus was real.
As I sat quiet at the table I was assigned, I began to continue working on my book. I think it was the quiet and the expectation to sit there and not say a word that got me started. Not before long, it was my turn. I went to the computer, completed the registration process, and was instructed to sit at another table.
At that table, a woman sat across from me that was part of the "put off" crowd. She seemed a bit angry. She also wore too much make up. I did like her boots though. When it was her turn at the next area, I heard her having to explain herself as well. I decided when it was my turn I wouldn't do that.
So, when I reached the desk of one of the staff, it was an older lady. She had dyed hair and wore a huge diamond ring. The first question was standard - what was your last position?
Of course, I said what was expected - customer service. It was the job I am expected to continue to search for while being unemployed. I'm also good at this as well...I'm patient. I know how to connect with people and this makes helping them with whatever it is they need help with that much easier.
And then I surprised myself - I said I was also a writer. This is the first time - outside of family, outside of Twitter, Facebook, and GooglePlus - that I introduced msyelf to a total stranger as being a writer.
She asked me what I wrote about. I told her I was a blogger and I also wrote fiction. (See, this is why every writer needs a blog. If you aren't published, saying you are a blogger is a great way to stave off those questions on whether you have been published before.)
Funny thing is she didn't ask any follow up questions about whether I had been published. Instead she said, "I had always wanted to write. I wrote something recently that had made me laugh so much..." She started to laugh while completing my paperwork. I smiled, thrilled at this brief moment of connecting with another human being at the most unexpected place and time. She continued, "But my husband read it and he didn't really like it." The smile began to fade. "I don't know, I thought it was funny. I always thought I would write, but I don't know..."
She shrugged her shoulders and something like reality set it in. She continued asking the same basic questions all applicants get asked. Gave me the basic instructions and told me where I could find customer service jobs.
I stood and she said good luck with finding a job and good luck with writing. I told her, "You too."
As I left, I wondered...what made her and I so different? I haven't been published, either. I don't have published novels on the shelves of my local bookstore. I don't write for nationally recognized magazines like Time, Newsweek or the New Yorker. Yet there I was introducing myself as a writer. And I didn't even blink an eye.
I think what a lot of us writers miss...is that getting published is only half the battle. Really, it's only part of it. If you've ever talked to someone who doesn't consider themselves of the creative kind...you will realize something that is missing. It isn't talent. It isn't even whether they are good or not. I know those things are a part of it, but there is something else that isn't there...
And sitting there talking to this lady, who seemed to lose her confidence as quick as a candle being snuffed out by the wind, I realized that I didn't just have the gift of writing and storytelling. I had the gift of confidence and self-assurance as a writer.
And that is everything. If you have that, whether you are published or not, you have so much. Don't ever forget that.
And if you find yourself identifying with the lady at the unemployment office more than you care to admit...I will tell you my secret. My secret of what gave me the confidence to introduce myself as a writer that day...
...I gave myself permission. I have done that my whole life. I gave myself to permission to be creative. To be silly. To be rejected. To sound stupid. To write my story. To writer others' stories. To be weird. To write scary characters, loving characters, funny characters, insecure characters, creepy characters. To be inspired by the world around me. To be inspired by my dreams, my nightmares and my fantasies. To not hold back. To uncover. To explore. To finish the story. To stop in the middle. To write a scene. To write a dialogue. To a write it into a poem. To fail. To try and succeed. To keep going. To give up and swear I'll never go back (but I always do). To keep the stories private. TO make them as public as I could. To trust myself.
I trusted myself.
Do this today. Even if someone doesn't think you are any good. Even if someone doesn't agree with your story or think it's crappy. Even if someone tells you to give up.
Because don't. Because there are people like me out there who listen to your story and want to tell you to not give up. That we - the ones who manage to find the courage to define ourselves by our creative nature - don't have this big huge secret power. We don't have an instruction manual that you don't. We have just given ourselves permission to try, to learn, and to not give up.
Do not ever give up.