I love words.
I want to read every book. I want to write down every thought. I’m not necessarily interested in speaking all the words, but I’m happy to listen to what others have to say.
My love for words parallels Oprah’s love of bread. “This is the joy for me.”
Before Landon was born, I thought parenting would fill me to the brim with words. But it’s actually emptied me of them. Sometimes I think this is the result of sheer exhaustion. In reality, it’s because I spend a lot of time staring at him, thinking, “Could there ever be words good enough to describe this?”
On Easter Sunday, Landon was having a tough time taking a nap. Knowing people were coming over soon and he really needed to sleep beforehand, we curled up together on the bed and I watched as he fell asleep. As I looked at the slope of his little nose in profile and his cheeks rosy from the warmth of our being smooshed together, what I felt was indescribable. How do you choose words that capture the moment your baby’s eyelashes flicker closed as sleep overtakes him? The only way I can describe it is to say that sometimes it’s possible to be so grateful and happy that your heart preemptively breaks for the moment it will be over.
Words aren’t just a passion or my hobby. They’re also my job. Wrapping your heart up in your work can be rewarding but risky business. It causes you to work harder and enjoy the process exponentially. But it also means you internalize the work more.
Recently I was given the opportunity to be the lead editor on a project. The team I worked with was brilliant and created something amazing. We spent several months beating up ideas, asking others for feedback, and sending marked up copies back and forth, until finally we felt confident it was ready for release. I was really pleased with the finished manuscript. But before the book could be published for the world to see, it needed to pass through the hands of a final, more experienced editor.
This person liked the book, but they saw areas that could be improved. So they began to make some changes. In the end, a number of the precious words my team had worked on were gone and the only sign of their passing was a little box in Word inviting me to “Accept” or “Reject” what had been done.
Seeing the changes was hard. The new words were helpful. They enhanced something that was already great. But I felt an odd tension. Yes, I wanted the feedback because it added value, but it also caused me to question my own abilities. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve wavered between feeling confident in the work I’d done and wondering if my perceived skills and abilities are a sham.
I’ve had friends share they struggle with comparing themselves to others. It’s driven them to do things like leave social media and remove themselves from certain social circles. I don’t notice comparison being an issue for me. It’s not trying to keep up with others that eats me up inside—it’s the constant pursuit to be better than myself.
Recently, something in me began to whisper, “Your work isn’t good enough.” It was a difficult loop to have play inside my head. However, it felt even worse when my internal monologue simply became, “You are not good enough.”
I’d sit down at my computer, set out to write 200 words, and nothing would come. It became a cycle: Type a few sentences, glide my cursor over them, press Delete, and mentally replace them with three short words:
Not good enough.
Not good enough.
Not good enough.
After a couple weeks of this, I finally called a trusted mentor to ask for wisdom. I asked them
Was what I did not good enough?
But what I really wanted to know was
Am I not good enough?
I don’t remember their exact words (I may or may not have been crying while on the phone). But the sentiment was this:
There will always be other words out there—different ways of saying the same thing. People can argue that some words might be better, but the original ones were good and would have changed lives, too.
Hearing this, I was flooded with relief. Not just for the one project, but also for the times I’d sat in front of my computer deleting entire paragraphs of copy. For the family moments I’d hesitated to write down because I wondered how I could even begin to describe what it’s like to be overcome by a tiny human and all the emotions that come with it. And for that lingering question: Am I good enough?
There are a lot of words out there. People can argue and debate over the best ones. That’s not a bad thing—the things we enjoy reading most are often the result of a rigorous editorial process and of groups of people who spent time considering the best way to say what they wanted to say.
But choosing to say nothing out of fear the words I choose might not be perfect?
If you have words that need to be out in the world, set them free. Tell your story. Give a compliment—even if you’re worried it will be awkward. Be vulnerable. Don’t get stuck inside your head wondering what people will think. Use the words you have like only you can. In the end that will be good enough.1