As writers, we are always chasing an upward trajectory. Higher word counts, query more agents, publish more books, earn more money... There's always another mountain to climb. That's why we attend conferences, read, and join writing groups. If we keep growing and improving, we'll finally make it to our goals where we can sit back comfortably and bask in our accomplishments. Right?
Yes. That is exactly right.
Last year, I found myself feeling pretty good. I had a stable writing group that kept me motivated, I got my first royalty check ever, and my sequel was wrapping up into a neat little package. Things were on track and the Rachel train had some serious momentum (woot woot!). I have to admit, a lot of this momentum comes from a previous year of working my tail off, but right then, I felt like I was coasting, and it felt nice.
To celebrate my comfortable place in the sun, I indulged myself and purchased a ticket to spend two days at the Storymakers conference in Provo, Utah. I have never been to a writing conference outside of LTUE, so I was excited to try something new. It was being held in the same conference center as LTUE, so I expected that it wouldn't be much different than what I already knew. Nice and comfortable.
The familiar conference center was completely transformed. Instead of recognizing half of the faces around me, I only knew a handful of people. Instead of knowing exactly which panelists to follow, I was sitting in lectures by people I had never even heard of. I texted my husband…
Stepping so far out of my comfort zone shook my foundation. My stomach started growling nervously through the lectures (Rachel White, my writing buddy and audiobook reader, can tell you all about it). I felt like I was missing too much information and furiously scribbled notes so I could go do more research after the lecture.
During lunch, I met up with some girls from my writing group and took a deep breath. I was finally back where I belonged, with close friends, in a zone of comfort and dependability. We looked through the list of upcoming classes and I saw some titles that absolutely terrified me. Math for writers? Mastering Facebook Ads? Yikes! I don't even know the first thing about that.
I don't even know the first thing about that.
I suddenly realized that the only reason I felt afraid or uncomfortable was because I was blazing new territory. I DIDN'T know what to expect. There was an empty shelf in my brain waiting to be filled with information, and I needed to go to these terrifying classes in order to start.
So, I marked down all the scariest sounding classes and started attending them. I was given excel spreadsheets and formulas that I didn't even know I needed. I heard about the psychology of power and the similar function of networks between drug cartels, the internet, and politics. I sat down with an amazing Bookstagrammar, @endlessfairytales, who taught me all the ins and outs of how to use a daunting and unfamiliar social media platform.
I felt lost, uncomfortable, and empowered.
With the new tools I picked up, I realized how I could grow as an author in my craft and my business. I knew how to set specific goals to improve in ways I hadn't considered before. To grow, we have to be willing to do things that make us uncomfortable. It's okay to be nervous to look at numbers. It's okay to be afraid to stand in front of a crowd. But don't let that stop you. The feeling of discomfort is a sign that you are growing. And growth brings success and security. Isn't that a weird thought: being uncomfortable will make me more secure.
Now, allowing ourselves to feel discomfort doesn't mean taking unreasonable risks. Fear and anxiety are often survival instincts. They keep us safe. You shouldn't jump into unsustainable schedules just because you heard that someone else pulled it off. Uncomfortable doesn't mean unhealthy. Uncomfortable means those little stretches that help you grow. It might feel overwhelming to face a new topic, or you might feel anxious to meet new people, but taking those tiny steps into the unknown will help you level up in ways that you might not expect.
So, be like Bilbo Baggins! Get out there and start exploring things that are foreign and scary and unexpected. Don't let yourself miss out on benefiting from a new experience, just because it's unfamiliar.