Own your wobble

Sage CohenProductive writing23 Comments

A few weeks ago, I presented at the Field’s End Conference on Bainbridge Island, Washington. It was one of my very favorite conferences, with a level of intimacy and insight that invigorated me and seemed truly enlightening to participants.

At this stage in my writing life, I am keenly aware of how much it uplifts me to talk with writers about how very possible their writing lives can be. My desire to accompany people through their discouraged and defeated places has overtaken what was once a debilitating fear of public speaking.

And yet, those dark and dusty corners of self-doubt managed to cast their shadow through the focused light of my good intentions.

Swept up in the energy of a very full and very engaged room of people, I elaborated on my key points with more examples and more enthusiasm than usual. As a result, I didn’t make it all the way through my well-timed and well-planned presentation. The end was rushed, with at least three of 10 key points simply glossed over. Despite the fact that a throng of people communicated individually how much they got out of the presentation, I chose to torture myself with the one ambiguous comment about how much material I had attempted to cram into an hour.

I was imperfect. I had possibly disappointed someone as a result. I could not accept this.

True, it was in the spirit of connection and enthusiasm that I got long-winded. True, I had spent the entire day before driving and crying on the heels of two weeks (including the weekend) of nonstop work. True, I was as exhausted and depleted as I have ever been, having recently started a full-time job in tandem with daily content deadlines for Hopeful Divorce, the intense demands of single motherhood and the emotional bloodletting of my beloved dog slowly fading away.

Still, I could not give myself a break.

Days into my agony of non-generosity toward myself, my expectation of perfection broke me open to the truth of my vulnerability. The truth was, I was doing way too much–more than I could handle. I was not in the habit of experiencing any kind of limit to my capacity. All of my energy was going out; there was nothing coming in to replenish the well. And as a result, I had worked myself into a hole of despair that I had no idea how to get out of.

All of this from spending three days doing what I love most — but in a way that was entirely out of balance with the other variables of my life.

On the night of my return, my son got really sick, and then I did. We did nothing much for a week at least.

I came out the other side greatly humbled about how punishing some of my greatest passions have turned out to be in a context where my expectations are out of alignment with my resources. I understood that my writing life is going to happen, for now, at the office. That nine hours of writing per day is all I have room for, no matter if I’m not doing “my own” writing.

Meltdowns offer valuable insight; mine yielded a good, close-up look at how my perfectionism is doing me deep harm that limits my capacity to be of service–in my personal and professional life. I saw how much I want to be liked, and what a liability this can be. I saw how deep this wobble runs in me: a parallel track to all that I hold most sacred.

The beauty of the writing life is that it’s always the context, even when it’s not the content of our work. I understand that everything life serves up (even if this prevents us from writing) seasons us as writers and as people. I thanked myself for working so hard to keep what mattered most to me alive. And then I gave myself permission to let it all go — for now.

Recognizing where we wobble and owning that wobble with as much compassion as we can muster will help us both accept and release patterns that are holding us back from the ease and grace that is our birthright.

Where are you wobbling right now? What small step can you take or commitment can you make to help steady yourself? I know you have the creativity and commitment to find new ways to love and support yourself through it.

23 Comments on “Own your wobble”

  1. Beautiful, honest post – as usual 🙂 I experienced a similar event just this morning after stretching myself way too thin. Oddly enough, for once I just smiled, shook my head, and thought – “You can only do your best.” Which is what I’m always doing. I admit to being cringe-worthy embarrassed at my mistake—I HATE being unprofessional—but shrugging it off so quickly has been enlightening. Should’ve done this a long time ago. It’s called “Onward and upward.” 🙂

  2. Always a good reminder to be gentle with our imperfect beings.

    You of all people often reminds me to look at my wobbling self, and see what can be done or just try to be at peace with it.

    Very interesting comment about how punishing some of your (our) greatest passions can be. Lots to think about with that one thought!!

    1. Thank you, dear Chloe! Yes, finding a balance with the passions such that they can fuel us instead of depleting us is quite a journey, isn’t it?

  3. Sage, this is wise advice indeed. And your son will appreciate your not stretching yourself so thin. A writer is always writing, as you say. Your “own writing” will wait for you to do what’s necessary for your life. A lesson I am faced with on an almost daily basis. Perfectionism is a killer of joy.

  4. Hi Sage, I’m so sorry to hear that everything got on top of you like this. It happens. There are some seasons in our lives when it seems to happen way more than it should. And yet when we look back we see the pattern, we realize how much depth and richness these hard times have gifted to us. Just not easy to see this in the midst of the stress and angst. Thinking of you. Be well!
    Oh yes, and the most amazing lessons I have learned from teachers are when they have admitted to how they got it wrong. The paradox is that in fact they got it very right. We learn best when we are being taught by other humans, not demi-gods! 🙂

  5. It is hard, hard especially to give up on things that we’re good at and enjoy and get praised for. But sometimes we need to realize, this is a lovely piece, but it really just doesn’t fit in my life right now. A large-scale variation on “murder your darlings,” I guess.

    Hugs, you. xo

  6. Dale: I hadn’t thought of it that way! Thank you! Edith: That has been my experience, too. I’m so grateful to see the flawed beauty of the people I admire, as it helps me embrace my own! Sandra: very true about perfectionism and joy.

  7. Sage, I just love how deep and raw you can be in your writing. I cry for you, I cry for me. Then, I remember. As writers, we are supposed to be strong, pull up our big girl panties and express ourselves – to show others how to wake up, blink, breathe, create, mourn, live. But only after we’ve nurtured ourselves. Be it with a decadent latte, a cup of homemade soup, a weekend of trash TV or 99 cent ebooks or a cleansing cry. This is my Year of Nurturing. I have to keep reminding myself of this. Thank you for your truth.

    1. Mary Jo, There is so much wisdom and heart in your feedback; thank you. Hooray for your Year of Nurturing! Just reading those words chokes me up a little with happiness!

  8. Sage, your heartfelt and soul revealing post sheds light that I can certainly bask in as I recall presentations that were less than my best. Your comment, “Days into my agony of my non-generosity toward myself, my expectation of perfection broke me open to the truth of my vulnerability” says so much. We want perfection. And even one bothersome comment can cause us to question ourselves. I hope you and your son are well rested now and if you need to cut back in the amount of writing you do, go for it.

  9. I’m catching up with your blog today and this post really hit home for me. Right now, I’m wobbling as a mom. My son has been showing a lengthy and frustrating lack of responsibility and self-motivation in school and around the house. He’s generally a good kid, not in trouble or facing addiction problems, for which we are grateful. However, he’s pushing my husband and me to the limit of our patience and knowledge with his lack of response to anything we try! I feel like a failure, and all I can see right now are ways in which I am an imperfect mom. Your post is helping me to accept those imperfections. Thank you for that.

  10. Thanks for an honest, insightful blog. The “meltdowns offer valuable insights” was a comforting reminder ~ not to make it a habit, but to realize it’s all a part of the process, a very valuable part.

  11. Sage,

    I found your site via Writer’s Digest, where you were mentioned as a poetry judge. I enjoyed reading your core beliefs and feel consolde by this post about imperfection. It’s perfect. 🙂

    As I read everyone’s comments, I kept hearing in my mind’s ear that Bon Jovi song, “Everybody’s Broken.”



    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Jim. Yes, for so many of us, being broken is what opens us enough to become more authentically whole. As Leonard Cohen sings, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Much appreciated, Sage

  12. Hello Sage,

    Thank you so much for e-mailing this post (proof that old posts never die; they live on in the depths of our blog’s archives). This came at the perfect time, as I am stressed and beating myself up for not being perfect in all aspects of my life. Sparing you a litany of self-pity, I will focus on the most pertinent self-flagellation. This should be a very exciting time for me as my novel Leave of Absence will be available around April 1 (my publisher has uploaded to the sites/Ingram/B&T/whatever they do — I’m not sure what goes on behind the scenes) and it will start to appear soon. And it is indeed an exciting time. I’m working on promoting a book I care about, and I’m looking forward to writing more. Yet this is my first time doing this in earnest, and it’s overwhelming at times. Today I posted a video trailer that I was excited about onto Facebook, and everyone is ignoring it. And these are people I’m supposed to have connections with! I’m at meltdown level to such an extreme that my husband went to the grocery store and got me chocolate. 🙂 Your post helped me step back and refresh my perspective. Thanks!

    1. I’m really happy to hear that this helped you, Tanya! Amusingly, it was distributed by accident as I’ve been trying to reinstate my blog that keeps getting hacked! : ) So, imperfection abounds!! And yes: bringing a book into the world can be as stressful and disorienting as it is exciting! Enjoy your chocolate and your new book!

  13. Hi Sage,

    I really appreciated this re-post too. I haven’t been able to get back to my blog since the end of November when my father went into hospice, and passed in February. I am committed to getting back in the saddle, but also committed to being gentle with my lapse.


    1. Thank you for sharing this, Anna. I’m so sorry to hear about your father. In my experience, the deep steeping in grief sometimes requires all of our attention. You will return to your blog when the time is right. Everything in life (and the writing life) has its seasons.

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