The Biggest Mistake I Made

Sid Smith here again — taking over the reins of The Writer’s Life this week …

Today, I’m going to reveal the biggest mistake I made when I decided to become a writer (so that you don’t make it, too), as well as how you can prepare for the tests and trials that lay ahead on your “hero’s journey” to the writer’s life.

But, before I jump in, I want to first take you on another kind of journey — an inner journey.

Imagine that when you were born, you were provided with a very, VERY large bag.

As you grew up, you diligently placed into this bag every experience and every bit of wisdom or insight you encountered. Into the bag went the beliefs of your parents, society, family, friends, and school. You carefully added tender, heartwarming moments, as well as any terrifying experiences.

As you got older, you added your own knowledge and things you learned in books, jobs, school, and from every moment of your life.

By the time you reached your decision to become a writer, the bag had grown to enormous proportions. In your mind’s eye, try to lift the bag.

The next part of your “hero’s journey” is to empty the bag of those things that you don’t need or that weigh you down. You’ll want to make plenty of room for new experiences, new knowledge, new friendships, and new opportunities.

The bag is what Jungian analyst Robert Bly (no relation to copywriting legend Bob Bly) calls our little bag of shadows. He says that we spend the first part of our life filling the bag with ideas, beliefs, habits, and ways of thinking. Then, we spend the next part of our lives trying to empty the bag.

My Big Mistake

I’d filled my bag to the brim with all things technical and geeky. I was more comfortable with computers than people. I could pick up and clearly articulate the basics of any new technology.

It was all good …

But, when I decided to write instead of work in high tech, I quickly emptied my bag of everything and anything that had to do with my technical background.

What I can tell you is that it made my life as a writer a thousand times harder than it should have been.

Here’s how you can avoid the same mistake and prepare yourself for total and absolute success as a writer. You are a hero in the making.

1. Out with the old …

Take a good look inside your bag. It’s bound to have beliefs and habits that won’t fit with the kind of life you want to have. You can toss out beliefs like “not good enough” and “inexperienced.”

Stop comparing yourself to your older brother or best friend who seemed to attract the best-looking guys. So what if someone else got better grades or won the award you thought was destined for you? Those memories have nothing to do with your future as a writer.

The hero’s journey asks you to shed outdated beliefs about yourself and your capabilities. Anyone can learn to sell. If you saw the movie “The King’s Speech,” you know that even a stuttering misfit can become a well-loved king.

Examine the things you say to yourself that will hold you back, such as “I’ve never been good at marketing” or “I’m nobody. Why would they talk to me?”

Now, imagine removing from your bag any outdated or limiting thoughts and beliefs about yourself.

Feel lighter?

2. Sharpen the axe …

What skills, experiences, and talents can you bring with you? Assess your strengths, as well as the knowledge, contacts, and experiences you had that will enable — rather than hinder — your success.

If you get a chance, take the StrengthsFinder assessment (you have to buy the book). I’ve done Myers-Briggs and just about every other personality assessment, but StrengthsFinder has proven to be the most useful both personally and professionally.

When you strengthen your strengths, your weaknesses will become irrelevant. This is how you “sharpen the axe” so that hewing down obstacles is an easier task.

Take your experience and strengths with you. Think about each talent, skill, strength, or piece of knowledge that might apply to your writer’s life. Develop your strengths so that your weaknesses have no impact on your success.

Once you develop your strengths, share them with me in the comments below.

3. Make room for the new …

Beowulf was stripped of the weapons he’d used against Grendel when he dove into the depths to fight Grendel’s mother. He had to discover new weapons in what proved to be his most terrifying battle.

Similarly, you’ll need a new set of tools as a writer. You’ll need new knowledge, new experiences, and new information. You’ll meet new people, including peers and mentors, who will give you aid and sustenance along your journey.

Learn to “make your own luck” (Read The Luck Factor by Dr. Richard Wiseman) by expecting and looking for opportunities to grow. These opportunities are all around you, all of the time.

Keep on the good path, my fellow hero.

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Published: May 31, 2011

4 Responses to “The Biggest Mistake I Made”

  1. I'm loving this hero's journey, Sid. I'm loving the whole metaphorical, allegorical experience. Makes me want to read a whole book you've written along these lines... Got one?

    And thanks for building our reading list. I'm going to get StrengthsFinder right away. I have done Myers-Briggs then Keirsey's interpretation, Please Understand Me II. That was a huge help for me to see what I contribute. Excited to see what StrengthsFinder says.

    Looking forward to tomorrow!

    Guest (Cyndee)May 31, 2011 at 7:13 pm

  2. Thanks for the encouraging words, Sid. StrengthsFinder is the best tool I've found to know who I am. My top five strengths are:
    Input Developer Empathy Individualization Connectedness It has been a huge help to me to concentrate on these strengths rather than work on my weaknesses. I've found, though, it's easier to teach others than to do for myself. I'm still learning to apply these strengths to my own life.

    JaniceJune 2, 2011 at 12:01 pm

  3. Very interesting post that got me thinking. I have a good idea of who I am, but still need to find out how to translate that and define a USP for myself. I never would have imagined that opening up a business would entail so much soul-searching!

    Thanks for the help.

    Melissa CSeptember 10, 2011 at 1:54 pm


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