Journalcalling #19 – Something I Built

Journalcalling   •   January 27, 2022

An expert is someone who, over many years, manages to remain confident enough to keep trying and humble enough to keep learning.” – James Clear

I love this quote because after laboring for many years through a couple of different careers, I have never felt like an expert. I’m not sure why I want or need to feel like one, and maybe I’ll ponder that on another day. 

The learning curves on the paths I chose  — journalist and teacher – always seemed alarmingly steep and ever changing. Despite the years I spent, I never felt like I got to the top of those fields to wave the summit flag and call myself an expert.

When I read Mr. Clear’s sentence, I thought, okay this is what I can aspire to — keep trying, stay humble, keep learning. Go.

During the start of the pandemic, with a hint of an idea, I started a small business. First, I confidently strode to the bank and opened a business checking account. With my shiny debit card in hand, I immediately began ordering things. Boxes of journals, stickers and all of my favorite pens began arriving at my door. The sandalwood and bayberry scented candles I like came, too, because I would be lighting them during my workshops. This was fun!

To promote the Journal Writing Workshops I planned to offer, I had to dig in and explain myself by writing the content for a website. Angst, angst, angst. After reading my copy, a friend with a marketing company said I had not revealed enough about myself to make people part with $200. Ugh. I rewrote and rewrote, and probably still need to go back to it.

My husband, an entrepreneur since 18, urged me to hire a professional rather than the relative I was considering to launch and maintain the website. I also hired a talented graphic artist to help me create a logo. I squirmed when he asked me specific questions about my vision. Did I have a vision?  

I bought a laptop and learned, screaming, to live without the tech support I had enjoyed at my former job at a school. For hours and hours, I sat at my computer in my kitchen trying to use those free online programs to create flyers and materials to market myself. “It might be easier if you got the paid versions,” my husband counseled.

I also reluctantly learned, with supreme patience from my mentor husband, how to keep track of my bit of revenue and expenses on Quickbooks. Under his watchful eye, I recently had to reconcile nearly two years worth of bank statements after I thought I was doing them correctly. “Weren’t you once a bank teller?”

In December 2019, I had finished taking the flagship course Journal-to-the-Self at the Therapeutic Writing Institute and was now certified to teach it. I eagerly started to advertise classes on the business Facebook page I had created. A friend who has a page  told me I needed to post something every day to keep people’s attention. Every day? After posting my new classes, I thought people would immediately sign up. No one did. 

No more posting. I would not beg! I consoled myself by continuing to run a journaling group as a volunteer at a recovery center and also tried my new journaling strategies on my friends at a women’s circle. I posted new classes, and finally, a group of seven women — all friends and friends of friends — came together for my first one. They paid me upfront, and this made me very nervous. Could I deliver?

I was in business via Zoom. My lighting was off, and I looked fuzzy on screen. My heart nearly stopped during one class when I could not hear the participants for a full 10  minutes. At times, when I was speaking and panic crawled in, I read haltingly from my notes. 

Slowly, as I rolled out different journaling techniques one by one and gave my own examples and then practiced them with members of the group, I began to breathe better. I was not prepared for what occurred. These wise women readily participated and shared their writing, listening intently to one another and laughing and sometimes crying together. They bravely made connections to what they thought they knew and wanted to know more of. I sat back in my chair and watched their discoveries and how they decided to act on them, and thought, yes, this is the path for me.

They shared how they had reached out to heal estranged relationships, started exercising regularly, signed up for a college course, and sought therapy and support for painful losses. One young woman wrote down specific plans for her future and contacted me a year later to say every joyous one of  them had come true. I had known for years what journaling did for me, and felt like I had struggled to express that to others, but now —  here it was, rippling out into the world. Damn.

When my husband suggested I retire from what had become an unbearable teaching career, I was ready. Catapulted into my new identity as an owner, a founder of a business,  I was on a mission to define myself as successful. A few months in, people were already asking, are you making money?

Hunched in front of my laptop, I kept up a daily schedule of organizing, marketing and running classes that soon felt overwhelming. When friends mentioned my enviable status as retired, I would snap, “But, I have this new thing. I’m busy!” 

I had carried over the go, go, go schedule from school which had ingrained inane thoughts like don’t-even-think-you-have-time-for-lunch-or-a-bathroom-break, and like  then, I kept to a lengthy daily checklist.

After 18 months away from the jarring school bells, I’m finally learning to create more space and forgiveness for myself. Going out for a winter hike, a spontaneous lunch with a friend or a long, hot shower provides needed endorphins and usually a boost to creativity, too. 

My biggest challenge with this new life is to stop feeling like a failure when I have to postpone a class because not enough people sign up. A friend who has one of those high-pressure sales jobs in a big company tells me I must keep asking. “It’s like asking for a prom date everyday,” he said. “Allow yourself to feel comfortable being uncomfortable.” I’m definitely still working on that.

When I’m cringing over recruiting and tell myself, “I can’t do this anymore,” I remember that more than a few women have returned for a second, third and fourth class. My old best friend from high school, who I met up with after 30 years, had never journaled before. She has now taken at least six classes and become my biggest cheerleader. 

As an enthusiastic believer, she has opened doors for me to teach several journaling workshops in the recovery community where she works. It has put me exactly where I want to be: offering support, discovery and growth for some of the best people I know: those who are working to overcome substance use disorder and the professionals who stand by them.  

I found out last week that a proposal I boldly sent in to be a presenter at an annual recovery conference in April has been accepted. I’ll be promoting the benefits of journaling to an audience in the recovery community. I’m a little freaked out. Do I know enough?

I’m certainly not an expert.

Keep trying. Stay humble. Keep Learning. Over many years. 

Got it.