Humbled and Slightly Caffeinated Reflections of a Newly-Minted Writer
by: Elisheva Liss, LMFT
Hi, folks. I’m going to deviate from my usual blogging style in today’s post. I generally open with a hypothetical or well-disguised case, and use the story as a springboard to highlight a relevant point.
But today, I’m going to address you, my readers, directly, and speak about myself, kind of from deep in my soul-ish. I’m so grateful to you and to Nefesh for providing a forum whereby I know I’m connecting with Jewish sisters and brothers, most of whom I would otherwise not intersect. I’m also grateful to Nefesh for allowing its members access to the data that tell me how many thousands of times these words get clicked, despite the scarcity of public commenting (myself included), so I know they’re not proverbial trees falling in an ear-less forest. I deeply appreciate the private emails and phone calls that come through this blog- confiding, questioning, challenging, debating, thanking, encouraging, social media shares, and of course the professional opportunities it has precipitated. But honestly, the most meaningful feedback I get is when I hear someone has found it personally helpful.
Work, of any kind, brings with it the choice to stagnate or elevate. Writing has always been a great joy for me- I love words and expression and people and personal transformation and yammering. In early adulthood, I became a teacher because I, oh-so-originally, wanted to “make a difference.” (Plus- people have to listen to you “when it might be on the test.”) For just over a decade it was deeply fulfilling, and I used to constantly rumble with my own arrogance, asking myself: Am I doing this for the right reasons? Am I just sublimating the limelight? Is this ever just narcissism dressed up as mentorship? Why are they looking at me like that? Am I wearing my sweater inside-out again? I endeavored to be someone for whom the message trumped the medium, sometimes succeeding, other times less so. I would pray to be the sort of teacher/ speaker (and subsequently, therapist) who cared more that the content delivered would make meaningful impact than that my name would be remembered. That if given the choice: “Your listeners could be impressed by you, but then not really be helped by the words, OR your listeners will dismiss you personally, but the ideas will help them”- I would opt for the latter. And again, some days I pass that test better than others- (the ego can be stubborn that way, and gold stars are so shiny).
Then, for a variety of personal reasons (and maybe a different blog post) I opted to go back to school to pursue a career as a therapist. (Mostly because it was cheaper than getting my own therapy.) The next decade and change were devoted to slightly more ulterior altruism- helping, yes, but more on my own terms- I didn’t want my hours, salary, content, agenda, meetings, and demographic dictated by institutions and superiors. I’ve always bucked against rules and authority, and I wanted to follow my own inner compass. Also, getting called to principal’s office and reprimanded is significantly less cool in your 30s- trust me. So I began the bumpy, risky road to private practice. G-d has blessed me and my colleagues with the opportunity to learn from and work with a broad cross-section of His children, and despite the intensity of human suffering we witness, I’m awed by clients’ resilience and G-d’s Divine assistance in this holy work. I am fortunate to be able to now access people individually, cut to the chase, focus in on their therapeutic goals, and try to assist them in achieving them. (And no more parent-teacher conferences, G-d bless us all.)
But as many of us do around midlife: I kept feeling like it wasn’t enough. Teaching had been great; we could (hopefully) inform and inspire large groups of students “en masse.” (And the summers off were sweet.) But because of the academic and collective nature of the work, it was largely superficial, often temporary influence. The scholastics were a constant distraction from the existential. (I would try to be all Robin Williams-profound, finding myself inspirational, and then they were all like: “Is that gonna be on the final?”)
Doing therapy was great; for one thing, my clients were not forced into my office by truancy laws. We could (again, I hope) zoom in and dig up core issues that individuals and couples were grappling with, sort them out, and then send them on their blissful way- healthier, happier, and more empowered. (Plus I could now afford to pay the orthodontist.) Yet, there are only so many hours in a day, only so many folks who can afford the time, money, and vulnerability required to pursue private therapy.
But writing. Now here was a way to reach out, to share ideas and information, confidential for the readers, and cost-efficient for everyone. It’s something I enjoy which can quite literally be achieved in pajamas. I began to write articles and blog post sand letters and emails. And, eventually, finally, a book. Writing, at least this sort of casual, contemporary, self-help genre, involves a certain amount of personal disclosure- a willingness to get real with readers, even beyond a blog, and especially more than is appropriate in the office. But I felt that if the words were going to mean something, they would need to be somewhat personally flavored, and that was exciting but also super-scary. (I’m still working on those dang social cues…)
Like teaching, therapizing, lecturing, and writing still force me to continually and vigilantly battle my own ego; Oh, how I envy the naturally modest… But I decided to go ahead with trying to help other humans, despite my own many vices; if I wait to be a perfectly developed person in order to support others, I may never get to be contributive. (Also- it keeps me out of the candy cupboard.)
Producing the book was more work than I anticipated, but it’s done. The next stage is to stay focused on its message as a qualitative tool, not a popularity contest. Not to measure its worth (or my own) on the basis of numbers- purchases, likes, or reviews, but to take joy and find gratification in the private, individual shared and unshared stories of those who were able to benefit from the inherent value therein. Of course I want it to sell, but as I explained to my marketing consultant: I would rather sell the book to a small number of buyers who find it helpful, than to a large audience who doesn’t. (Then I became the first client to be fired by her own marketing consultant.) As a naturally crummy entrepreneur, I want to find the balance between healthy marketing and frantic promotion, but I suppose that’s the rub with all relationship-building, right? To be driven not by the adrenaline of admiration, but the contentment of connection. (I’m a hopeless alliteration-nerd.)
Again, unlike my usual blogging style, I’m not even exactly sure what my point is. I guess it’s mostly: Thanks. Thank you to the Nefesh organization and blog readership (and/or whoever else somehow gets to these posts) for giving me the courage to take writing a notch up. (It feels a little dramatic to call that “courage” in a world with firefighters and kidney donors, but it’s a pop-psych zeitgeist, so let’s go with it.)
And I guess this is also a prayer: Dear G-d, please allow my work and words to bring light to dark places, to bring warmth to cold hearts and homes. Please allow my spirit to be humble and sincere, and my motives to be pure. Give me the confidence and wisdom to find the right language and tone to promote wellness, happiness, humor, and spiritual consciousness, and balance it with the perspective and humility to always remember that it all comes from You; I’m just lucky to be the dispensable delivery gal.