Rogue Ink

October 7, 2008

Stupid Fear and Smart Fear and Stupidity That’s Smart

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 3:28 am
Tags: , ,

All right, here’s why I’m scared of marketing, are you ready?

First of all, marketing beat me up in first grade. He shoved me into a mud puddle and he stole my lunch money and he said mean things about my ponytail holder. Also, he used to smell faintly of brimstone. If that’s not enough to maintain a healthy fear of marketing on into adulthood, I don’t know what is.

There’s another reason, though. Totally irrelevant. We don’t really even need to talk about it. Much, anyway. I mean, if we didn’t talk about it you probably wouldn’t get a post today and I’d be that loser all over again, so. Well.

I’m Afraid of Looking Stupid

Which is, let us confess, one of the most idiotic fears a freelancer can have. We all have it though. We figure out somewhere around age five that someone doesn’t like the way we run or the way we dress or the way we pick our nose, and forever after we are aware that there are stupid ways of doing things, and non-stupid ways of doing things. We are pretty certain that most of the time, everyone else knows what the stupid ways are, and they’re not telling us until we’ve already done them. Then they point and laugh and won’t share their fruit roll-ups. Or their company’s money.

This is my fear. Speaking of stupid, this fear personifies that quality quite well. There are stupid and non-stupid ways of being afraid. Being so afraid of appearing stupid that you never do anything to draw attention to yourself (like, you know – marketing) for fear that someone will notice your stupidity = the stupid kind of fear.

Fear of big angry bear mama whose cub you have recently bopped in the nose = smart kind of fear. Pay attention to that fear. It will steer you down the right course. Through the blackberry bushes and into the rushing river.

So How Do We Get Rid of the Stupid Kind of Fear?

I am fearful of an awful lot of things. A long-winded example for you: I used to be afraid of going to martial arts classes, because I was afraid I would throw a punch like a girl and then everyone would point and laugh. (My father used to do this. I’d punch him on the shoulder after he punched me on the shoulder, and he’d chuckle, because I looped my punches and wasn’t getting any kind of power behind it. Just wait till my dad’s old. I’ll get him then. Though he’s been talking about getting a big stick when he’s old, so maybe not. Weren’t we talking about something else? Martial arts. Right.)

So I didn’t take martial arts for a long time, even though I really, really wanted to be Ziyi Zhang or Summer Glau and destroy everyone with the sheer power of my awesome awesomeness.

Then I took my first martial arts class and discovered that, while there are indeed guys who fly through the air with the greatest of ease and can crack your jawbone out of the rest of your skull while they’re up there – there are also guys who go through class looking like spastic upright turtles. They’re awkward. They’re uncomfortable to watch. They are much, much worse than you, but you do not point and laugh. No. Because you’re an adult now, and you really don’t have the inclination.

You do, however, take a strange schadenfreudic pleasure in the fact that you are better than they are.

That’s how you get over the fear.

There is Always Someone Worse Than You

Seriously, if you ever want to feel better about the quality of your skills, go browse around the web for awhile and look at the websites of people in your city, people who post on freelance job sites, people who blog, people all over the place. I’m not advocating getting all sneery and superior. I’m saying look at the quality of their work, and then look at yours, honestly.

Is it just as good?

Is it – dare I utter the word – BETTER?

I did this for a bit of today. I found a successful freelance writer who had written for companies I really want to work for – she had so many misspellings and grammar problems with her blog that I had to look away for fear of damage to my retinas. I found a freelance copywriter who wrote that he had too much work to handle, but his website was poorly written and his samples were more awkward than a fourteen-year-old putting on his first jockstrap. And as I sorted through these writers – whose work wasn’t bad so much as mediocre – that fear of being stupid started to dissolve into something worse:

The fear that I already was stupid. Because I hadn’t gotten off my rear and put on my shiny superman cape and marketed myself. Maybe nobody was pointing and laughing at this particular stupidity, but that’s because I work at home and no one sees my shame but me and the spider that has taken over dining room chandelier. But I know. I hung my head when I passed by a mirror. Of course, then I couldn’t see myself hanging my head, so the shame inducement may have been mitigated, but the PRINCIPLE STANDS.

The Intelligence of Stupidity

Now, these people whose work I was pleased to note came far short of mine? They clearly had no idea their work wasn’t great. Or at the very least, their copy and their self-promotion showed no such weakness. They thought they were awesome. They were psyched about ‘there’ new clients. They had tips for better writing, even though one of those tips may have been ‘use corect spelling and grammar’. They were totally oblivious to the notion that they were not the best damn copywriter to come down the pipe.

Children are stupid like this before the finger-pointing starts. They run stupid. They talk stupid. They do stupid things. They pull their shirts over their heads in public and stare open-mouthed at bald people wondering where all the hair went. But they don’t care, because as far as they’re concerned, they’re awesome. And we, as adults, we buy it. They’re children. They ARE awesome. What else could they be?

Remember the cool kid in high school? Not the popular one, not the handsome football player guy. The COOL guy. Or the COOL girl. The one I’m thinking of was named Sofia. She had about every attribute that could make her goth – the clothes, the makeup, the dyed hair. She ought to have been a cliche, like all the other goth kids. But she was so beatific, so haloed in her own gloriousness, that she was nothing of the kind.

She dyed her hair in mermaid colors and designed her own tattoos. Other goth kids were trying, like they knew you might catch them, like they knew what they were doing might possibly be stupid. You could never in this world have pointed and laughed and said Sofia was stupid. It wouldn’t have occurred to her that she could be. So it wouldn’t have occurred to you, either.

If you’re unaware of your potential for stupidity, so will everyone else be.

Unless you fall over a small Pomeranian and fall nosefirst into a vat of custard. There’s really no cure for that one.

Subscribe. Tomorrow I’ll talk about confidence, which means James’ll be making an appearance.

P.S. Addendum. It occurs to me that I never thought sales guy was stupid. I thought he was underhanded and a shyster, but I never once thought he was stupid. There was no room for that. You can’t be a sales guy and think that you’re stupid. So let this be a lesson to you – stupidity is not necessarily doing something stupid. It’s thinking you’re doing something stupid.

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