Last week, I mentioned the anxiety that plagued me during my early years as a newspaper reporter in Northwest Arkansas.
I often dreaded going to work for fear of discovering I had made a mistake in a story or missed something that had happened the day before.
I disliked covering live events. What if I didn’t take notes fast enough or get the quotes right? What if I completely overlooked the main point?
It also was hard for me to write under the pressure of daily deadlines. Although it got easier as the years went on, I never really felt comfortable doing it.
It wasn’t all bad, of course. I learned a great deal. I loved seeing my name in print (probably more than I should have). And I had coworkers who became good friends.
But for years after moving on to other positions, you know what I mostly remembered from my newspaper days? The bad feelings.
For some reason, anxiety and fear colored my experience far more than my actual accomplishments. In fact, it has only been recently that I have begun to frame that season in my life by what I actually did, rather than by how I felt about it.
I reported on the Fortune 500 companies in the area (most specifically Wal-Mart Stores Inc.). I drove all over Northwest Arkansas, touring factories and interviewing entrepreneurs and executives. I flew in an airplane for the first time in my life when I had to cover an awards dinner in Little Rock.
I wrote dozens of articles about all sorts of business-related topics—healthcare, retail, real estate, banking, construction, small business development—you name it, I probably wrote a story about it at some point.
Now, almost two decades later, I’m wondering. Why did I focus all those years on how I felt, rather than on what I did? Was it sin? The lies of the enemy? My own body chemicals betraying me? Deeply ingrained ways of responding? Some other issue that might require the excavation skills of a trained counselor or therapist?
And why did it take so long for me to break free from all that?
These are not questions I have ever pondered before. But, as is often the case when you start writing or thinking deeply a topic, related issues arise that you may not have been expecting.
At this point, I have no definitive answers. Perhaps I never will. But I do know this.
The newspaper business was a training ground for me. I needed to learn how to do those things I dreaded so much. And I did do them, some quite well.
But there’s more. I have a musty box in my basement storage room that contains a stack of letters and cards, written to me by people I interviewed. Small business owners, many of them, who appreciated the attention their little slice of the economy was receiving in the newspaper.
It wasn’t just that they enjoyed the attention, though. It was that the coverage actually brought them business. It actually helped them.
I actually helped them.
No, I wasn’t curing cancer or teaching underprivileged children to read. But in some small way, the work I did back then was beneficial to someone else’s livelihood.
I’m not rewriting history here; I’m gaining a new perspective.
And here’s what I’m realizing. Sometimes, the work we do is hard. It requires perseverance and grit and determination. Sometimes it never gets easier. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important and necessary. It doesn’t mean we aren’t there for a reason. It doesn’t mean we aren’t learning lessons and stretching in ways that will benefit us—and others—in the long run.
Especially others, I’m finding. It’s natural to think about at how hard something is for me. But just this week, I started wondering. What if our work—our writing, our serving, our designing, our teaching, our managing, our administrating—is primarily for the benefit of someone else, someone else who needs us to do what we are equipped to do? What then?
If I let my fears hold me back from what I want to do—or perhaps from fully accepting or embracing what I am doing—I’m not just hampering myself. I’m very possibly holding someone else back too—someone who needs my message, my presence, my heart, my helping hands, my story.
It’s a sobering truth, but also quite empowering.
As Ann Voskamp wrote recently, “We only get one life here. It’s a crazy, beautiful, liberating thing to realize: We’re not here to help ourselves to more—we’re here to help others to real life.”
How about you? What hard thing have you done or experienced that was directly for the benefit of someone else, even if you didn’t realize it at the time?
Note: This is the third post in my “Faith, Fear & The Life of a Writer” series. If you missed an earlier installment, you can catch up here and here. And please be sure to check back next week, when I’ll share the writing feedback that changed my life.
Also: I’m linking up this week with Kelly Balarie at Purposeful Faith, Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory, Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart, Lyli Dunbar at ThoughtProvokingThursday, Crystal Storms at #HeartEncouragementThursday, Crystal Twaddell at FreshMarketFriday and Jennifer Clarke at Grace & Truth.