Last week I went to a book panel discussion in Santa Monica. One of my writing teachers was the moderator for the event and I was intrigued enough to make the long drive across the whole of Los Angeles in rush hour traffic.
At the event my teacher asked how many people in the audience were writing a memoir. Half the audience, including myself, raised their hands. I was in good company.
I didn’t research either of the other two writers on the panel so I was surprised to witness one of them, a twenty-five-year-old woman, speak about how she went from publishing one essay in The New York Times to having editors and agents fight for the right to publish the book she hadn’t written yet.
It was the second time that week that I’d been in a situation where I had seen a young woman being celebrated for her accomplishments. A few days before the book panel I went to a gallery opening and watched a twenty-four-year-old woman field compliments and accolades for her solo photography show.
Both times I watched myself to see how I would feel and how I would react.
Both times I noticed an old story coming forward. A story about how these women were too young to accomplish so much so early. A story about how their economic backgrounds must have contributed to their early success. A story about how I deserve to publish a book and show my photography. A story based on my own judgments and insecurities. A story based on comparison, them against me. I’m not at all sure what I was doing at twenty-four but I’m pretty sure it involved working in a mediocre Mexican restaurant and a lot of haphazard plans that I would get to “one day.”
On both occasions, rather than succumbing to feelings of inadequacy and lack, I realized that I had a choice in both how I viewed these women and in how I viewed myself. I no longer believe that there is a limited amount of success in the world. I no longer believe that someone else has to fail so that I can succeed. I’m all in with what Stephen Covey references in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I believe in Win-Win. I believe there is enough for all of us. I believe that there is enough for me- enough attention, enough money, and enough love.
Something happened when I shifted my thoughts about this in the presence of these young women. In understanding that their success didn’t dim my light, something magical happened. That twinge of jealousy shifted to inspiration. I saw each of them in a new light. I saw beauty and grace in the way they were both sharing their gifts with the world.
Yes! I could do that. I could focus on polishing the essay I’ve been working on for The New York Times. I could put some of my photos together and have a show somewhere. Neither one of them has done something that is impossible for me. They have shown me that having an art show and publishing a book are both entirely possible.
I came home and immediately downloaded the young woman’s book. Here’s the thing- it’s good. It’s really good. She deserves every success. I am grateful that she shared her story with the world, and in doing so she’s inspired me to do the same.