Where my story really started
It's easy to look at someone successful and think they're just naturally confident or that they've probably always had their shit together. But let me tell you, I was not a confident kid.
And I've struggled with self-belief for most of my adult life. My motto in my 30s was "fake it til I make it", and that kinda worked. But as a child, I wasn't even phoning it in.
I cheated myself of opportunities.
Remember in Phys Ed class when the teacher would force you to play team sports? Well imagine yourself as a shy, introverted bookworm with low self-esteem being told you have to play kickball—or worse, tetherball or dodgeball—with ham-fisted dudes twice your size. It was terrifying. You might even know exactly how I felt.
A lead weight in my tummy, my feet literally dragging, I dreaded P.E. on sports days. I was so afraid of that ball hitting me in the face that I pretty much resorted to cheating. I'd putz around at the back of the line and let other people go in front of me for a while. Then, when I'd get to the middle of the line, I'd slink my way back to the end again when the teacher wasn't looking.
Because I let fear control me.
I was so afraid of being embarrassed, mocked, and judged that I refused to try rather than try and fail. And the teachers let me do it. What I really needed was a mentor, a cheerleader, someone who recognized my strengths and encouraged me to lean into them.
For most of my life, I approached my personal growth in the same timid way, choosing to be willfully ignorant of my flaws, my needs, and sometimes even my desires. Repressing our needs reinforces our own self-loathing and chains us to the basement of our potential.
So I became the mentor I wished I'd had.
We need to empower one another, celebrate each others' strengths, and gently strategize about our weaknesses.
On so many levels, romantic fiction has always been a bastion of hope for me. The more I studied the human elements of these stories, the more I realized that we are all just characters in our own never-ending growth journeys.
By helping writers strengthen their storytelling skills, I'm empowering them to reach for their dreams. And, hopefully, transform into their truest, most powerful selves along the way.
Sue with author Shannon Gilmore at the 2019 RWA Golden Heart Finalists reception. Photo credit: Amanda Bellamy (@amandabellamyphoto)
But some journeys take time
If I went back and told my 15-year-old self that one day I'd become a successful, respected romance book editor, I'd have said, "Girl, get real!" I didn't even know what being an editor meant. I had no idea just how many different types of editors there are or how perfect a fit this profession could be for me.
What we do is not who we are.
But the thing about "professions" is that we start to see ourselves as what we do and ignore who we are. When you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, you get some traditional answers—firefighter, CEO, doctor—but sometimes they surprise you with something completely unconventional and (you might think) unrealistic.
Those ambitious aspirations come from kids who haven't yet bought into society's limiting beliefs. They haven't yet learned to feel unworthy.
And our opportunities are turning points.
There are two turning points in my life that I remember with absolute clarity. And both pushed me to be a better human and to strive for more in my career.
My first turning point happened on an airplane. I was sitting next to a woman who ran her own events coordination business. Just hearing her talk about her job felt freeing. I had a million questions. How did she get started? Where did she find her first opportunity? How did she get experience as a newbie? What made her even consider something so non-traditional?
It was the first time someone had opened my mind to possibility. It was the first time I realized that jobs don't have to be J-O-Bs (Journeys Of the Broke). That what I wanted might actually matter.
But I found most of her answers frustrating. She'd just fallen into the role. She'd just worked her way up, etc. And I pledged right then that I would never give such boring, vague advice to a woman who might ask me the same thing one day. I'd give her details. I'd give her direction. I'd help her find a starting point.
Because there's nothing more frustrating to a badass, go-getter woman than being shown possibility, then having it shrouded in mystery and hopelessness. And although I was still fumbling my way through the post-college world and holding on to a lot of my childhood limiting beliefs, at least my eyes were finally open. I had hope, even if my "Aha! Moment" wouldn't come for another decade.
But sometimes our turning points are hidden by our limiting beliefs.
The second pivotal moment that shaped my career happened in my late thirties. I've been a romance book addict—ahem, enthusiast—since I can remember reading books. I probably read my first romance book somewhere around age 10. I have read hundreds and hundreds of romance stories throughout my life, so I'm definitely a connoisseur of the genre.
I intuitively understand nuances in romantic fiction like a painter knows their brush strokes and color theory. But I didn't even know that the job of Developmental Editor existed until an author told me I'd be good at it. I'd been beta reading for a writer whose work I really liked, and I just gave her the kind of feedback that came naturally.
I left notes in the margins of the manuscript. I summarized possibilities and opinions and suggestions and delivered multi-page essays with my thoughts. I wasn't getting paid for it—beta readers rarely do—and I didn't realize that I could do something like that for pay. Until she said, "Hey, you should charge for this. What you're doing for me is actually Content Editing, and you're really good at it."
Mind. Freaking. Blown.
So turn your doubts into possibilities.
There's a lot more to my story, but what I really want you to take away here is that turning points—personal and professional—can be multi-pronged. And self-worth can be our biggest enemy.
I needed my mind opened to the possibility of possibility before I could see where the path to my HEA might begin.
I had to try a lot of random things and wade through some unhappy situations to understand what I truly needed—and wanted—from a career.
Knowing you can and believing you can are two completely different stages. And we need to experience both before we can set our sights on the stars.
Can you see how seamlessly your strength of self-belief can carry over into crafting your story and character arcs?
Our stories are worth telling. We just have believe.
Sue at Coastal Magic Convention 2020.