By Karen J. Francis
“You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.” ~Marianne Williamson
I haven’t written in a while. It has been quite painful not to. But I was frozen.
When author Brené Brown spoke with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday a few months ago, she said many things that struck me. One was that “unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame.” And those negative emotions can devour you alive.
My inability to write these last few months has indeed felt like an affliction. I noticed some physical manifestations health-wise but in addition, I felt like an imposter. Writing has been a major part of my identity since childhood but I was attempting to suppress it. The suppression of that which naturally occurs is exhausting, and that exhaustion led me to a spiritual fatigue that I cannot even describe. I was weary, and yet afraid to touch my computer keys…
Somehow, I had convinced myself that writing was doing me more harm than good. I had encountered various stumbling blocks since declaring that I wanted to continue with my writing. There were closed doors, dead ends, unanswered emails and texts. Obviously, nothing good comes easily. But there was more.
When you have a successful career not everyone understands why you’d also want to pursue something that is completely unrelated. They confuse your livelihood with your identity. Some folks had already boxed me in and created definitions for who I was and what I was allowed to represent. For them, my identity was inextricably linked to my career so a “reinvention” simply wasn’t possible. I received some unsolicited opinions to this effect – and it hurt. Why was I inviting all of this negative energy into my life for the sake of some side hobby? Why challenge others’ perceptions and rock the boat? Not writing at all seemed the easier alternative.
This morning, I watched the series finale of Showtime’s The Big C: The Hereafter. The show was about a woman (Cathy) living boldly and shining brightly in the face of the greatest battle of her life: Cancer. Although Cathy does eventually succumb to the disease, I do not believe that she “lost” her battle with it. Having the disease taught her to live her last moments to the fullest and completely on her terms; it led her to ponder her spirituality and the afterlife; and most meaningfully, it made it clear to her that love really was the most important thing (she committed acts of unspeakable generosity and kindness up until her very last breath). In the end, she truly was a victor.
The last four episodes of the series touched me very deeply and got me thinking — in particular, about my legacy. While thankfully I do not have a life-threatening illness like Cathy did, if Brené Brown is correct, my creativity has been suppressed, lying dormant and therefore metastasizing within me like cancer cells.
Fear had me bound for months but suddenly thoughts of mortality and the rapidly moving hand of time made me fearless. Fear is NOT the legacy I want to leave behind. I thought about my life-long love affair with words. Recital of bible verses before the church congregation at age 3. My first book club membership by age 5. Composing songs and poems at age 8 as a way of expressing all that my shy little self could never say. Performing my poetry — first in grade school through high school, and eventually before packed audiences in college. My acceptance into every creative writing course I auditioned for at Harvard, which afforded me the opportunity to hone my craft among some of the brightest stars in the literary galaxy. And eventually, becoming a published author by age 21.
I needed to remind myself of who I truly am. I also needed to recognize that those who question my desire to write don’t really know me. They met me after a career and a title; they believe that the parameters of my identity start and end within the confines of that career and title. They may never realize that those things, like mosaic tiles in a larger design, are smaller parts of the larger composite Me. I no longer hold it against them; in the end, their opinions hold little weight. When it comes to pursuing your purpose, the only person who really needs to get it, is you.
I have used the gift of words to excel at almost everything I’ve put my mind to – academically, professionally and socially. And it has served me well. But our gifts are not only to be used for our benefit. The other side of receiving is sharing; the other side of taking is giving.
Each time I write, I will remember that it is with God’s anointing to educate and to inspire others. It is what has been placed on my heart – to share my struggle, my triumph and my hard-earned wisdom — in the hopes of enriching others and underscoring that at the heart of it, we are all more similar than we are different. And as long as I do not lose sight of that greater purpose, God will guide my work into the hands of those who can truly benefit from it. One person, five, ten, more…whoever really needs it.
To those of you who needed to read this today, we are on this journey together. Remember that identifying your gift(s) or your passion(s) is the first step. Once you have identified them, tell those who will support you and nurture you. They will hopefully be encouraging and excited for you. If some are not though, do not be surprised or even hurt. Recognize that it doesn’t matter. We are called to let His light shine through us, not to suppress it or hide it in an effort to make others more comfortable. Whatever negative chord that strikes within someone else is their business; being about the purpose that God has explicitly laid out for you, is yours.
About the Author, Karen J. Francis
Karen J. Francis is a culture writer and media attorney living in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @karebelle.