The Power of No

Tonight, I got mad. Like, can’t focus on a conversation mad. Like pacing my house mad. Like consuming copious amounts of chocolate mad. Alright, so I look for pretty much any excuse to consume copious amounts of chocolate, but that’s beside the point.

I recently completed a writing project I’ve been working on for roughly six months. It’s something of a passion project of mine, and to finally finish it was extremely exciting. But, given that it’s a passion project, I know that I’m too close to the material to objectively criticize it. And, given that it’s a passion project, I want to achieve the best end product possible.

This winter, I took a writing course. I took this course knowing that I wanted to hone my skills and hopefully meet someone who would be willing to coach me through this personal project. During the course, I was advised against using this project as my main class project. I was told that it would be better if I work on a less personal project in order to learn structure and make mistakes. Okay, fine. So I picked a different project and began putting it in motion.

Once the class was finished, we were asked to submit goals. I shared that my goals were to apply what I’ve learned to my project in order to shape and complete it. I then asked if this instructor would consider coaching me privately. The response was yes – but that I should really consider pursing the project I started in class. Completing this project would really help develop my skills as a writer. I was assured that this teacher only works with students with the drive and talent to complete their projects (cue flattery, hand over money).

So time out. I have no formal writing credentials. My mom forced journaling on me when I was a kid, and, while I hated it then, I will be the first to credit her for the joy it brings me now. But, given that I have no formal training, I put my confidence in this instructor and believed this advice was coming from a genuine place.

I agreed to develop the other project, but couldn’t get my passion project out of my head. After an insanely busy January, I made no progress on either project. But, by mid-February, something was made very clear to me. I wanted to work on MY project. On the project I’d already started and that meant a great deal to me. So, I emailed the teacher and made it known that this is the direction I’d be taking, and would the teacher be willing to coach me on this project.

After ignoring the issue for several weeks, I received a response informing me that the teacher felt it would be too-time consuming of a project in which to get involved. Declined.

At this point, you’re thinking “Okay, chill out. So this teacher didn’t want to work with you? Find another teacher.” To which I’ll respond, “Oh, I already have another teacher lined up.”

But I was mad. Really mad. Fast-forward to the lack of focus, pacing, and chocolate eating. I was mad because I don’t like being told no. I was mad because I felt that I’d been manipulated, and I’d almost let myself continue to be manipulated. I wanted so badly to find a well-meaning mentor that I let myself accept direction and advice blindly. Moreover, I tried to ignore my gut.

So I’m pacing my house, feeling short-changed and angry. And then, I just stopped. I stopped because I realized something. I realized I was allowing this teacher’s limits to influence the limits I was placing upon myself. The “no” from this teacher gave me an unexpected jolt of energy – only I was channeling it in all of the wrong ways. I was angry and anxious and worried that the teacher I’d already lined up would also turn me down.

As I was pacing my kitchen trying cursing my luck, it suddenly dawned on me what I needed to do with this pent up energy. I realized that this experience and the subsequent feelings would be wasted if they weren’t shared constructively. If I could harness this energy and use it to someone else’s benefit, this experience wouldn’t be in vain. So I decided to jot down the lessons I learned in hopes that someone else won’t make the same mistakes.

3 Lessons Learned from Natalie’s Writing Coach Tragedy:

Self-Deprecation Only Works for Your Mom and Chris Rock

I was very quick to let this teacher know that this was my first writing class. That I was very grateful for the direction. That I was a little uncertain. Despite my inexperience, I wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted someone to see my desire to learn and I wanted to excite someone to teach me. In the best case scenario, this would have played out fine. Instead, my self-deprecating speak caused the teacher to see me as weak and caused me to start believing the words I was saying. I left myself open for manipulation. Complaining to your mother that you’re “fat” and waiting for her to tell you that you look skinnier than ever is one thing. Self-deprecate your skinny little butt away. The professional world is different. Your word will be taken at face value. Speak kindly of yourself. I’m not saying to boast – I’m saying be your own advocate. No one else will be.

Your Gut is for More Than Storing Beer:

Here’s the thing. All along, I wanted to work on this project. I was actually pretty far into this project when I signed up for this class. I set a goal for myself, and I was almost persuaded against fulfilling it (at least for now). I kept trying to tell myself that the advice this professional writer was offering me was sound. That it had my best interests as a student in mind. I kept trying to force myself to believe that this is what was best for me. In this situation, the effects of this behavior were minimal. I would have done some extra writing and potentially wasted some money. Big deal. But deigning to ignore your gut instincts is risky business.

Feelings of Passion are Human Fuel

I consider myself to be a sensitive person, so when I saw an article on HuffPost entitled “16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People,” I thought “Hey! I should read that and confirm that I’m a sensitive person!” So I read it, and I can report that I do, in fact, suffer from extreme sensitivity. #tear. But one of the traits listed in the article stated that we sensitive people, we’re more emotionally reactive. We experience higher levels of anger, empathy, excitement, etc. Perhaps this is true. Perhaps the anger I experienced tonight was inflated by my extremely sensitive nature. But here’s what I learned – emotions are our body telling us we need to express something in some way. Stagnant emotion, to quote Dr. Brene Brown, is not benign. It metastasizes. The trick is finding a way to express it. And not just express it, but express it productively. Feeling angry? Fight for a change. Feeling excited? Spread the joy. Channel the emotion and release it productively. Make your feelings make a difference for you or someone else.


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