Monday, June 25, 2012

Taking risks, in life and in writing

It all started in college. I was an undecided major, and went through a couple of changes in major (as well as a few changes in minors). I blame my interest in so many different areas. My husband calls it "hobby ADHD."

Even after I graduated with my Bachelors, I thought I knew what I wanted to do and spent the next four to five years getting my doctorate in clinical psychology. I was going to be a therapist.  During the fifth year, I tried something different, something I never considered before (because of my unease in speaking in front of people): teaching. And I loved it! I switched majors and ended up getting my doctorate in Educational Leadership.

Fast forward eight years, and I'm thinking of a career change again. Maybe it is hobby ADHD. This time, it’s not even in the same general area, but it is related to my eventual minor in college. However, this move may mean going back to school for another degree. The government doesn't really want their money back, do they? 

The thing that's holding me back is fear. Many of us are afraid of change, because it includes unknown factors and we're not comfortable with the unknown. Even if our current lives suck for one reason or another, we're not always willing to change it because we'd rather deal with known expectations than take a risk. In my personal experience, risks I've taken have worked out, but every time I'm faced with the option to try something new, I freeze up again.

Fear is a common motivator we don't acknowledge all the time. When I ask my students what motivates them, a lot of them will answer "family." But you know what? I suggest it's not their family that motivates them, but fear. Fear of disappointing someone. Fear of losing someone (in the case of not having the income needed to support a family). This fear is what drives them to come to class and turn in their work. 

Writers talk about fear, and there's a great video of Elizabeth Gilbert, where she talks about fear in writing. 

The trick is to go on, despite your fear. Take a deep breath, put on your big girl panties, and just do it. What's the worst that can happen? You fail?

Well, there is that.

But I'm also one of those people that has no regrets. Even my mistakes were learning experiences. I believe they happen for a reason, and sometimes that reason is simply to make me who I am today. I like me.

Writing a story when I knew absolutely nothing about creative writing was a risk. Letting other people read my writing is a risk. Sending my work out to agents and editors is a risk. Going to conferences alone is a risk. Talking to other authors, editors, and agents at said conferences is a risk. Letting characters talk me into writing stories outside my normal genre is a risk. But you know what? I've done them all with pleasant consequences. I've met some fantastic people, made lifelong friendships, and actually enjoyed  doing all these things. If I had the funds, I'd attend every conference physically possible. The writing risks I've taken by listening to random characters became some of my better work. I've stretched my creative process by stepping outside my comfort zone.

I urge you to do the same. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to research Graphic Design schools. *grin*

When have you taken risks? How'd they turn out?


  1. Changing jobs 15 years ago was a big risk that turned out great. I was apprehensive to move, but knew it was time. My BFF made the initial push and I took it from there.

    With a new baby on the way I was hesitant to submit my stories to publishers, but again my BFF pushed me. When I did, I got a request for a full manuscript. It might turn out to be nothing, but it's a great feeling when someone asks to read your work.

    It was a reminder that life never slows down, so we shouldn't put our dreams on hold.

  2. Hey Elke! I love that saying...I may have to borrow it for my classes, when students tell me they will stop school and wait until it's a better time. So glad to hear your risks paid off!

    1. It's all yours, Noelle. Forgot to tell you good luck at Graphic Design School!

  3. I take very much the same approach to my life. It's like my brain has this switch that says, 'Oh, Kellie, you're afraid of something? We must get over that!" And it'll bug the crap out of me until I make a plan to get over a fear. It's why I took a chance on writing. Why I chose to get out of a bad marriage. Fear is only debilitating if you give power to the fear.
    I've often felt like that sort of divine inspiration thing with poetry I write. Sometimes I'll write like a bat out of hell on a piece but then it stops and it's like the "muse" took a vacation. I loved what she said in the video how you take it "outside yourself". I think a lot of people can benefit from that kind of mentality in a lot of areas of their life.

    Great post, Noelle! Very inspiring!

  4. I remember the fear and anxiety I faced when I wanted to go back to college. It was ALMOST overwhelming, yet I knew if I didn't take the plunge I would regret it immensely. I'm so glad I did it, too! Same thing with getting out of a horrible marriage.

    Sometimes, people continue doing things because that's all they know or it's what others expect. I finally realized that even though I didn't know what the future held for me, I wanted and needed something better.

    Wonderful post, Noelle! This post came at a great time for me. Thank you for the reminder so much! I struggle at times with the unknown regarding my writing career as well. Yet, I understand that whatever the outcome may be, I know at least I pushed forward and went for my dreams.

    I also loved Elizabeth Gilbert's thoughts on this matter. That's an interesting way to put things and how to help relieve the 'burden' off of the creative person.

    JD :)

  5. Hey Noelle! I am so glad you wrote about this because now I know what to call my problem! I went through so many majors in college, went to grad school and changed again. Had several other jobs before I went into teaching. Even moved overseas a few times to teach there. Glad I'm not the only one! And so glad to learn more about you.

  6. You only live once, right? Why not take a few risks along the way. My father worked hard at his factory job for years, but they laid him off like everyone else. It was the best thing that could have happened to him. He went back to school, got a degree, and makes more money and works at a job he loves. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Anymore idioms I missed? Great post, Noelle.

  7. Risk is a good thing, right? I didn't change my major that often, but it did take me decades to finish my degrees. Actually, after my master's, I swore I was finished. No more. Tired of going to school. That was in 1987. I "walked" for my doctorate in 1999. That's enought!! LOL

    Isn't there some study "out there" that says that people have an average of seven jobs/careers in their lifetimes? You're just hitting your stride LOL. Good luck in the new area, lady.Graphic Design sounds like a great, relevant area for you right now.
    Keep us posted on how it goes.

  8. Fantastic post Noelle! I'm catching up, here tonight, but I'm glad I did. Risks? Yep...I've taken a few, but I'll tell ya, though...almost every time I've taken a risk, it's paid off. I've gone back to college and been the oldest in my class most of the time. Then starting a new career in drafting roads, finally putting an end to a bad marriage, beginning a new relationship (One of the best risks I took that paid off in spades!), started writing, and most recently...quit an 18+ year career to stay home and write full time. Just a small risk, but so far, so good. I'm not rolling in dough, but I'm able to pay MY bills, and you know what? I'm happy...go figure. For me, taking risks has been a good thing.

    Author of La Fleur de Love series