I’m now in a precarious position when people ask me that inevitable get-to-know-you question: “What do you do?” See, I used to be able to shield myself by saying “I’m an IT consultant” or “I work in hospital labs” when on a first date, and then she would smile and say, “Oh, that sound interesting,” and then I could continue on and talk about how I’m saving money to start my own business and website. But now that shield is gone, and it’s forcing me to take myself seriously, even when others don’t.
Inherently, there’s a piece of most everyday people that winces or scoffs when they hear the term “video game journalist.” Generally the response I receive is, “Oh, so you get paid to play games?” or “Oh, my son would LOVE your job; he’s just obsessed with (insert game here)” or “Really? That’s interesting,” in the same way that a video of a person sitting in a rocking chair watching a movie about watching paint dry is “interesting.” I’ve been lucky enough to have tons of friends and family support me as I’ve made various career decisions, traveled around the country and quit various long-term, “stable” jobs, but there’s still something about that glazed-over look that I get from strangers that just…digs deep.
When you don’t take yourself seriously, it makes it that much harder for others to take you seriously. When you show confidence and determination, it makes other people wonder just what you know that they don’t, or it makes them want to follow your lead. Self-confidence is armor, shielding our soft, vulnerable ideas from the barrage of attacks that come from the inadvertent (and…advertent?) statements of the folks around us. Too frequently we get excited about dreaming big, about creating something new or taking off in a new direction and end up getting that excitement quashed by skeptical onlookers. The better we shield those ideas when they’re soft and vulnerable, the better the chance they can grow to be strong, resilient realities, backed by experience and success.
At least, that’s what I tell myself, anyway.
Today I talked with Ellen during our business meeting about the frustration I felt when talking about my ideas for game journalism, and she just kinda smiled knowingly. “It’s part of starting your own business,” she said. “You just have to think about your idea and how badly you really want it.” She didn’t phrase that as some sort of confirmation or backup about how badly I wanted my ideas, but more as a question. “Do you want the site to exist? Do you want to put in the work to make it happen? Is it really something that YOU feel is viable and possible?” I’ll admit, sometimes I’m not as confident in my answers as I think I should be.
One of my editors once talked to me about the writing I was doing for his website, and we talked about freelance journalism in general. “Even if it’s not really your job, you have to treat it like it’s your job,” he said. “Don’t look at it like getting the work done is optional because it’s not what pays your bills. Look at that work as a second job; you go to work and you do your job, and then you have to come home and do your job.” It’s especially easy to look at a lot of freelance writing as optional because there’s no direct pay involved: many game writing sites pay in “experience,” credentials, and “free” games (you still have to play and review them, which actually is real work). That mentality doesn’t get you anywhere in the long run.
It’s interesting: I searched “take yourself seriously” on Google and came up with a bunch of results, but most of them play in the opposite direction, saying “Don’t take yourself too seriously, (insert reason life is absurd here).” I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t roll with the punches, or allow self-importance to cloud our perceptions of our real impact on the world, but I think there’s far more to risk by not taking yourself seriously enough than taking yourself too seriously.
Ellen’s been working in vintage sales for years now, and it was her ability to take herself and her business seriously that allowed it to flourish, and that likely goes for every small business owner. My editor and fellow writers continue to write amidst talks about lack of credibility in journalism and lack of money because we take what we do seriously and think it’s important. And think of every professional athlete ever: they kick balls into nets, hit them with bats, or swing at them with clubs day in, day out, in a world where tens of thousands of other people dream and fight to be in the same position. At some point in time they had to take themselves seriously, too.
In just a few weeks I’ve made a ton of progress towards my goal of being a professional, full-time writer, and it’s in no small part to finally taking this goal seriously and focusing on getting back to actually writing. But I think it’s also due to my decision to take myself seriously, seeing value in my work, and sacrifice perfectionism for actual performance. A small change in perception and belief can work wonders, but only if it’s taken seriously.
Take yourself seriously. Know your purpose. Push forward.
P.S. Here’s a comic my dad sent me the link to. Just read it!