The Difference Between Stepping Stones and Gems
Writing has been full of ups and downs this last week, but it’s mostly been ups, thanks to a few epiphanies. I thought a lot about how I could reframe rejection (again), so I could regain my confidence. What I ended up doing was redefining it.
I learned a lot about rejection when I was serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Knocking on people’s doors and asking if they’d like to invite me and my companion in, so we could share our innermost beliefs with them, is a bit of a crash course in rejection.
The thing is, I never really minded when people said no. I had faith in the message I was bringing to people, and I understood that every single person on this planet was coming from a different place. Whether people let us in or not, physically into their homes or emotionally into their hearts, had more to do with the alignment of the stars than me personally.
When I was inviting, when I was doing the work, I was succeeding.
There are some moments where the events of a stranger’s life dovetail with the events of your life, and there’s a symbiosis right there on their porch. But when it doesn’t happen, it’s not right or wrong. It’s just part of the journey. I went on my mission to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel. When I was inviting, when I was doing the work, I was succeeding.
Conversely, a good way to get frustrated as a missionary is to focus on whether or not people get baptized. Doing so places a value judgement on every “yes” and every “no,” and it’s not just frustrating for the missionaries; it’s a massive disservice to the people that they’re trying to teach. It turns every person into a “means to an end,” and a gatekeeper to the missionary’s personal fulfillment. In short, it’s a recipe for disaster.
But this post isn’t really about missionary work. It’s about writing, and what I was missing. You see, I’ve wondered and wondered why I was able to separate myself from “results” and focus on “the work” during my mission. Why wasn’t I able to do that with my writing? I certainly set out with that attitude. I already believed that “work = success.” And yet, once challenged, it eroded rather quickly.
I’ve wondered and wondered why I was able to separate myself from “results” and focus on “the work” during my mission.
I thought maybe it was because missionaries are frequently encouraged not to judge themselves, or the people they teach, by the “numbers.” Maybe it was because there was such a human element, rather than faceless emails. Maybe it was because “baptism” and “publishing” were so different.
Both were completely out of my control. Both relied on the long, complicated, personal experiences of the person making the decision. Both had little or nothing to do with me.
What did have to do with me? My faith. The simple truth was, I had faith in the gospel I was teaching, and that faith wasn’t really touchable by the rejection of others. It didn’t depend on the validation of others. It was personal, and it was internal.
And I realized…I need to have faith in my work. My writing work. If I’m producing the best I can, and I know it’s good, I need to believe in it. I need to believe in my ability to write well. And I need to believe that what I have to say is worth writing. Even if it’s just for myself.
Most of all, I need to focus on writing what I love, and making a pure effort, rather than writing to a market. I knew this before. I knew it. But there’s a difference between knowing something intellectually and internalizing it, feeling the truth of it.
Because I was right when I said I’d crossed a threshold and I was in a new world. This renewed confidence isn’t a return to the old. Before, my confidence in my writing was untested. It was involuntary. It was a childlike faith borne from a lack of adversity.
I should value my stories for the gems they are, rather than the stepping stones they might be.
This new confidence is a choice. It’s intentional. I choose to have faith in my work. I choose to believe that all of the time and energy I’m pouring into my work is worth doing — for its own sake. And maybe, just maybe, I should value my stories for the gems they are, rather than the stepping stones they might be.
So let’s move onward, shall we? I’ll carry these gems in my pack, taking them from stranger to stranger, and if people want to see them, they can see them. If they like them, they like them. If they don’t, it doesn’t make them worth any less. Not to me. Not anymore.
Thanks for coming on this journey with me.