8/27/19 - Into the Nothing
Updated: Sep 28, 2019
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“Oh my god, am I too much? OH MY GOD, am I NOT ENOUGH?” Both of these can’t be true at the same time...and maybe neither one of them is.
Hi! This is Coach Sarah, and this is the Morning Mantra!
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Hi, my name is Sarah Axelrod. I'm a run coach and a lover of poetry, and a person who cares about your well-being. You don't have to be an athlete to be #coachedandloved, and if you need an anchor to hold onto as you move through a tough situation, you've come to the right place.
Today’s mantra is: into the nothing.
Impostor syndrome is no stranger to our listeners: particularly those of our listeners who are also runners. We fear the distance between us and the lead pack, because only the lead pack, in our minds, are the ones who people regard as “real runners.” Where is the space for us? We look around, but we don’t see it, overpowered as we are by images of lean, toned, muscular bodies. How can we, as far as we are from that image, find a place to call our own in this sport? Who will see us and think we belong in this space?
I have known this impostor syndrome well. I have also known its mirror image, the demand that everything that comes out of me be original, daring, groundbreaking, apart from the crowd. In my research as a literature scholar, I needed to find the thing that no one else saw, prove to everyone that they had missed something and I alone knew what it was. In the study of fourteenth-century texts, that is a tall order. And yet, in those moments where I really felt like I was seeing something in my own way, that I had something to say that I hardly dared believe no one else had said, then came the fear of being too far out of bounds. This thing I am writing does not look like the things they are writing, over there, and they want me to write more like them if I am to be accepted into their world. Here was a new complication to the impostor syndrome: be original, be daring, but never be threatening, It was a needle I tried to thread for years before realizing that it wasn’t a needle so much as a sheet-metal screw, tightening and tightening until the enclosure was fully shut.
Becoming a writer who only wrote what I wanted to write was liberating and terrifying. Without playing expectations dodgeball, how in the world would I know what to write and for whom? The more I tried to anticipate what readers of my little blog wanted from me, the more I panicked under the weight. People had already written everything, it seemed! And yet I felt no match for them. Where was the space for me, where were the people who looked like me with whom I could blend in? Particularly when I think of myself as a coach, a writer and a podcaster in the world of recreational running, I feel the impostor-type thoughts coming in from both sides: on the one hand, who is ever going to think I belong here, having never qualified for Boston in the marathon or even broken four hours? How in the world am I an authority? What can I possibly have to say? And then from the other side comes the mirror image: people like you are a dime a dozen. Oh, you have feelings? Oh, running makes you feel them? Oh, you’re going to have a podcast about it? How original! After all, the New York Times Style section has questioned whether we have hit peak podcast - do I really think that I can possibly have anything of value to add?
Ok, coach Sarah, which is it? Are you too different to belong, or are you too much the same? Maybe there’s a nothing waiting for you to step into it.
The late Toni Morrison published a book of essays titled The Source of Self-Regard shortly before her death, and the first essay I flipped to, called “On Beloved,” told me this. Quote: “Sometimes what is there - what is already written - is perfect and imitation is absurd and intolerable. But a perfect thing is not everything. Another thing, another different thing is required. Sometimes what is already there is simply not enough; other times it is indistinct, incomplete, even in error or buried. Sometimes, of course, there is nothing. And for a novelist, that is the real excitement. Not what there is, but what there is not. A tall door rises up into this nothing; its hardware is heavy, secure. No bell invites your hand. So you stand there, perhaps, or move away and, later, sticking your hand into your pocket, you find a key that you know (or hope) fits the lock. Even before the tumblers fall back you know you will find what you hoped to find: a word or two that turns the “not enough” into more; the line or sentence that inserts itself into the nothing.”
That space where you don’t see where you fit - either because it is too crowded or because there is nothing like you - maybe you’re looking at it incorrectly. Toni fucking Morrison started writing as a grown ass adult with small kids, and she didn’t start to call herself a writer until she had published three novels. Three novels, two of which are widely agreed to be among the most important novels ever written. She had to write Song of Solomon before she named herself writer. She wrote in spaces where things had been said (but more was required, much more) and she wrote in spaces where nothing had been said, where no space yet existed.
There is a nothing where you belong. There is a need for your thing even where another thing, even when the perfect thing exists. Your voice matters, and someone somewhere who is wondering where they fit and why they should ever speak and who will ever listen, they are going to see and hear you where before there was nothing. When you doubt whether there is any place for you I want you to hear my voice in the back of your head reminding you that you too can insert yourself into the nothing. In all likelihood, it’s there because there is something that’s needed.
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You are Coached. You are Loooved, and you ARE winning at life. And if you need MOAR reasons to believe that, follow @morningmantrapod on Instagram.