It’s the same way with a book. While in the writing stage, I’d read back over what I wrote – chapters no one else had seen – and have that same, delicious, private pleasure because something special was growing within me.
At the same time, growing a baby – whether it’s a real baby or a book or a personal project – is something that’s rarely done completely alone. You have guidance, support, resources, a wealth of information at your fingertips, friends and family to lean on, a support system of experts, like doctors and nurse practitioners (or, in my case as an author, a publisher, editor, art director…)
And just like I learned so much about myself in the months before giving birth to my children and then once I became a mom, I’ve learned just as much as I became an author.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to lean.
I’ve never been good about leaning on friends and family or admitting I’m not able to handle everything myself. I believed that there’s more value in going it alone. I like the feeling of barreling through challenges like they’re my own obstacle course and I’m racing to see how much I can get done, as if I’m out to set a personal record. Doing it alone carries weight, builds status, pushes you harder to achieve more.
But it also creates exhaustion, reduces focus, and isn’t fun.
And the idea that having an inner Mean Manager who drives you to work hard and then work harder so you can get further faster isn’t necessarily true. Sociologist Kristin Neff’s research on self-compassion shows just the opposite: the more self-compassionate you are, the more productive you are, and the happier you are at large.
And just like when you’re newly pregnant and can’t imagine ever fitting into the enormous maternity clothes that your friends have passed your way, I couldn’t imagine how much I’d grow. Over the summer, I made it my personal goal to say yes whenever I could to requests for help. I’ve reached out to ask for help from my writer’s support group, even (or especially) when I felt vulnerable. Friends have taken care of my children and taken care of me by shopping for me, reading chapters and giving honest feedback, sitting down with me and my scattered to do list and helping me prioritize and organize what to do first, even providing free acupuncture sessions to help me ease out of my head and back into my body. Friends listened to my writing woes and then gently told me to shut up, sit down, and get back to work.
Just like research has shown that having an exercise partner increases your motivation – and also your performance – having friends, colleagues, and family in my corner increased my resolve to finish, even when writer’s block stopped me in my tracks, even when I experienced my longest bout with insomnia ever, even when I thought I couldn’t add one more task onto my already full plate.
Friends – including my so very patient and devoted husband – would bring little gifts: a smoothie while I wrote, a bag of berries left on my front porch, a grown-up coloring book to help me relax, a homemade meal for my family when I was out of town with a note that said, “Thank you for sharing your wife with the world.”
I leaned, and there was a strong wall of so many people who held me.
“Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends,” wrote Virginia Woolf.
To my friends: Thank you.