This was previously published on the More than Writers blog.
Encouragement can come in unexpected ways from unexpected places. Have you found that?
But have you also discovered its opposite – that discouragement can come from places where you would presume to have found encouragement?
This can feel particularly tough. There are those in our lives who we simply assume will support us. They love us, don’t they? Of course they will be interested in our lives.
It can cut very deeply when we find, instead, that they are very disinterested. At least, this is how it feels.
Writers can experience this as we practise our craft. And the craft can feel much harder when we are dampened by discouragement – from those we care about.
We have to do a rapid re-ordering of our expectations in order to cope, build defences where we never thought they would be necessary.
But what I find equally astonishing is that there are those who balance this out. Those who pull out all stops to support us, when we hardly feel our relationship with them merits it. Those who cheer us on, buy our books just because we wrote them, those who follow our news eagerly… and, I don’t know about you, sometimes I have invested not nearly so much in them. But they don’t ‘quid-quo-pro’ things. It’s humbling. Just as I never assumed they would support me, they always assume they will. They seem to support me by default.
Yet often I don’t see them properly, so caught up in the disappointment of not feeling that support from those ‘others’ in my life. I often don’t see these hearty little cheerleaders because I get distracted by someone else dropping their pom poms (when surely they should have particularly gorgeous pom poms to wave, owing to their placement in my life or the history of our friendship).
After enduring these disappointments from unexpected places at different parts of my life, I have managed to re-qualify my expectations. I could choose to get gloomy over it, to resent it, to think, why?Why don’t you want to read what I write? Why don’t you even want to know how I am? But you know what? That does me no good.
Nudge, nudge. There’s God, getting my attention, tipping his head towards those unexpected encouragers, the ones going the extra mile. I may not know them so well; I may not be in any way related to them; I may not feel we particularly ‘click’ but there they are, the shining lights, doggedly continuing to support me even without much input – dare I say encouragement? – from me myself.
And that, of course, leads me to the most pointed question of all – which one am I? Do I go all out in supporting my friends and family, or do I not get round to it? Do I assume they will find support elsewhere? Do I start weighing people’s responses and judging them (without knowing what aspects of life may be discouraging them, for that matter) – even subconsciously? Have I got into a system of merit and reward, instead of grace?
I tell myself – as a writer and as a whole person – stop with the expectations. Just treasure what you are given. Someone not interested? Well, someone else is.
You are not doing this to please people. To bless them, yes, absolutely.
To want to bless is so different from seeking approval or applause. Which are we doing, when we write? Do we get exasperated when people don’t respond?
Perhaps we need to rearrange our own priorities. I want to bless you. I am not asking you to wave your pom poms for me – although I really want to notice when you do, and say thank you. But that’s not the motive I want to hold in my heart.
At the end of the day, only one person’s approval matters. And those divine pom poms are extraordinary (!).
Are you discouraged? Remember that for that one person who rains on your parade, who makes you second-guess yourself, there will be others – others who want to encourage you, who consider you – and your words – a blessing.
Note/caveat: I should say that most of my nearest and dearest are wonderfully supportive!
Read more about encouragement versus expectation in chapter 14 of Undivided Heart.