I always thought when I got to a certain age, I would be free of all the doubts and insecurities that plagued me all my life, as if they would magically disappear by blowing out a specified number of candles.
The truth is, it didn’t happen all at once. I don’t remember the exact day I was able to stand in front of a group of people and talk without my voice and knees shaking. Or when I voiced an opinion when it wasn’t the popular point of view. Or went to an event alone and didn’t feel out of place.
It wasn’t age that gave me the self-confidence I had lacked most of my life. It was writing.
At around age 50, after the last child left the house, I knew if I was ever going to write it had to be now. With my husband’s blessing, I took a vacation from my job and plunked down the fee for a week-long writing workshop at Duke University. I gathered up every ounce of courage I had and drove to Durham. I had thought I would be like a little, meek spy, listening and observing and not drawing any attention to myself.
Within the first day, I was talking with my new friends and sharing stories. It was as if I had walked into a family reunion and instantly connected with everyone there. Well, the aspiring writers, anyway. The guest authors were still like the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus, out of a mere mortal’s reach.
One day I was sitting at lunch with fellow attendees when Josephine Humphries came to our table. We gasped when it became apparent that she was going to eat with us.
She sat, smiled hello, and showed us the souvenir shirts she had bought to take home to her boys. She was not just a writer reveling in the great reviews from her first novel, Dreams of Sleep. She was a mom. Just like us. The conversation flowed easily as she shared her writing life with us. I realized then that writers are just people, people like me who have a story they want to tell.
I know of no other occupation where people are so willing so share their expertise, so eager to take on the newcomer and show her the way. I came home knowing I had embarked on the right path to continue my journey through life.
When my first book was published, I was asked to talk to book clubs. Again, the club members were so friendly and accepting that I was able to talk about my book without the usual stammering and the urge to flee. And every time after that, it became easier.
Yes, I am still shy and large crowds still make me uncomfortable, but now I know I can face them and survive.
So when I blew out the candles (metaphorically speaking) the other day, I didn’t expect my inner demons to disappear.
They already had.