Marsh birds are notoriously shy. Rails, grebes, bitterns, snipes — these are secretive birds who make their living by hiding in the reeds and grasses of swamps and wetlands. They’re hard to see, so you’re better off slogging into the right habitat at night to listen for them. You still won’t see them, but at least you’ll know they’re there. I’ve had some luck spotting clapper rails at Brig (the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Galloway Twp., NJ) but that involved a lot of luck, knowing where to look, or having someone point one out to you. Sometimes they appear for a second or two, then they disappear back into the reeds. If the tide is right, you might find a clue that one is nearby from footprints in the mud. But a clapper rail isn’t going to put himself out there for you.
Ducks can be shy too – not mallards so much but less common species like wood ducks and ruddies. My word for this duck behavior is “skitzy” by which I mean easily scared off; flighty. I think for ducks it comes from centuries of being shot at by hunters. I’d be skitzy too, if someone was always trying to shoot me. So ducks don’t put themselves out there either. Can’t blame them.
I’m reading Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive, in which she talks about a collective wake-up call that is being experienced by people who have “realized that what they truly valued and what they were spending their time on were out of sync.” In a word, the book is about burnout. Arianna believes we need to redefine what is meant by “success.” Success is more than money and power. Arianna believes we need to consider our well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving when we think about success. I can see the wisdom in that. But I want to suggest that if you too have experienced something of this wake-up call and are trying to embark on a new and promising road to a better life, overcoming some fears might be a good place to start.
Fear holds us back. That’s almost a definition for fear – fear is a belief that keeps you from doing or trying or being something you would otherwise do or try. So I’m here to bear witness to the fact that a lot of fear can be overcome simply by putting yourself out there. I’ve been trying this in various forms over the last year or so, and it hasn’t killed me. In fact, just the opposite; in putting myself out there new horizons and vistas have opened up in ways I could not have imagined.
It first happened about a year ago, when my friend Mary Rodgers told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to start a blog, rather than only writing for myself journal-style. Mary’s given me a lot of good advice, but this was perhaps her best so far. She said that writing for others makes you vulnerable in a way that you can’t accomplish in any other way. “Put yourself out there” she told me.
It turns out that Mary was right and I’ve applied that advice to other parts of my life as well. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable it necessarily means you drop your defenses. You stop hiding behind the carefully-constructed walls of your fears and anxieties. There are lots of ways we hide — behind our computers, behind our cell phones, behind our sun-glasses, at the drive-thru window, with that don’t-talk-to-meglare we give others when we’re in a hurry at the food store. We hide every time we elect to sit in front of the TV. Every time we close ourselves off from human interaction, we’re hiding and not putting ourselves out there.
Writing with the idea that others will read my stuff has made me a better writer. Not so much in the form or structure of my writing – that still needs loads of work, but rather in the risks I’m willing to take. I used to practically burst with ideas, but had no platform to get them out there. Now I have freedom to float ideas out into the universe…where it’s possible no one will read them, but they’re out there none the less.
I don’t like the spotlight and have never felt comfortable living in a fish bowl; but writing a blog is a relatively safe step outside my comfort zone. Along with many other women of my generation, I have a perfection issue: I feel compelled to accomplish as many things as possible, with impossibly high standards that I set for myself. It’s a gerbil-wheel that has gotten me nowhere. Fear of failure has perpetuated the relentless pursuit of accomplishment. Putting myself out there stops that compulsion dead in its tracks. I’ve opened myself up for scrutiny, knowing full well my writing is laden with flaws and imperfections. But it’s ok. It stands on its own, imperfections and all.
I’ve come to believe that blogging is a good form of self-expression without self-promotion. It’s a creative outlet that, while having aspects of self-disclosure, feels more like a conversation that I’m having with myself and others. Feedback and comments on the blog make this all the better.
Putting myself out there has made me much more aware of my own thoughts and feelings. I had become practiced in ambivalence — believing ambivalence was preferable to an opinionated, hard-headed mindset. It’s important for me to form and take ownership of my thoughts and opinions. But I still maintain it is important to consider both sides of an issue and to not be afraid of the grey areas. There’s always growth in that approach. Some times I’ve had to spend a long time not being certain before I could own my convictions. It just takes time sometimes.
One of the things I like about chickadees and titmice (two friends who hang around together in the bird-world) is that they put themselves out there. They’re precocious little birds…they’re the first to investigate new feeders in the yard, they boldly announce the presence of predators and they always respond to pishing. Titmice and chickadees don’t miss much. They put themselves out there.
So go ahead, put yourself out there. See what door opens for you…