The Terror of Winning

“Traveler, there is no path, the path must be forged as you walk.” -Poet Antonio Machado

“Awards are so unnecessary because I think we get so much out of our work just by doing it. The work is a reward in itself.” -Natalie Portman.

“Awards are wonderful. I’ve been nominated many times and won many awards. But my journey is not towards that. If it happens it will be a blast. If it doesn’t, it’s still been a blast.” -Tom Cruise

 2013 Mayor's Arts Award Pottery Studio

This past Sunday, my husband won one of the annual Mayor’s Arts Awards in our city. Well, the pottery studio he founded won the award for Art organization that has made a significant contribution to the city and the surrounding county. It was a lovely event with five arts awards, and two humanities awards given to individuals and organizations.

It was lovely, and it made me uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of my husband and his colleagues who make such a difference. I was proud of the way my husband, an introvert like I am, handled all the praise. He was gracious, humble and accepted the praise without deflecting it onto someone else. What made me uncomfortable is remembering how it feels to win an award, or even to receive praise.

I don’t do well with having huge amounts of praise heaped upon me, or having all the attention focused in my direction. If I’m teaching a class, or acting in a play, or some activity like that, I feel different about getting attention. In those instances, I’m encouraging learning, or I’m playing another person. So, the focus isn’t on me personally. But, when someone singles me out, especially in public to give me specific praise, I want to duck for cover.

I’ve just finished reading Daring Greatly by Dr. Brené Brown, and I have to acknowledge that I do the “foreboding joy” thing when I receive praise of any kind. Foreboding joy is when something wonderful happens to you, or you feel great love or joy, and immediately you feel that some disaster is going to befall you if you lean into the good feelings. Even in little things, like when a student tells me they like the way I teach the class, I feel a twinge of discomfort before thanking them. When the praise is about a big thing, I almost feel physical pain. Here’s an example. I directed The Wizard of Oz last spring at a local elementary school. Almost all the children in the school were in the play, over two-hundred students. I got lots of praise, and it was easier to accept because of the personal work I’ve been doing, but when the praise came, I still deflected it to all the people who worked hard on the production. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good idea to give credit where credit is due. Nevertheless, I have trouble acknowledging my own talents. It was a huge undertaking, no one involved, except me, had ever directed such a large theatrical production. It could have bombed, but it was a success, because of my years of directing experience, and because I asked for, and got lots of help. I love that collaborative process of theatre, because I’m not out there doing the creating all on my own.

Writing is a completely different matter. The words on the page come from me, or my muse, and no one else. I can’t hide behind a collaborative group of people.

As I write this post, I’m in the process of revising my first novel. It’ll be published later this year. Yes, I have readers and editors helping me, but I’m the one who created the work. I hadn’t been thinking much about getting an award for it. Then just last week, I got an email from our POD representative about this years IPPY awards. He was letting us know about the awards for independently published books, and that just happened to coincide with the pottery studio award that my husband was going to accept. Of course, in my fanciful mind, I went off on a tangent thinking what I’d do if I ever won an award for my writing. How would I feel? I know I’d cry and not be cool, calm and collected. I’d probably be like Jennifer Lawrence and trip up the steps on my way to the podium. Somehow after reading both Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection, I’d be okay with that. Jennifer Lawrence, was cool, because she acknowledged how embarrassing it was to trip, and then she went on with accepting the award. She allowed herself to be imperfect. I liked that.

When Brené Brown was on Oprah’s Life Class, she said (I’m paraphrasing) “I’d mapped out a pretty small life for myself. Then my TED-X talk went viral, and I had to lean into vulnerability and acknowledge that I had to dare greatly and risk much so I could affect change and help people.”

Man can I relate to that. I’ve lived a pretty small and invisible life. And now I’m becoming a writer, and putting my work out into the world. I’ve had to embrace being vulnerable, risk failure, and criticism. My work may never go viral, but it’s still being read by people I don’t know, like many of you. That’s scary and exciting at the same time. And when people leave comments on my posts, I get a chance to examine my point of view. I get to expand my view of the world. Sure, I may get nasty comments too, but as my dad used to say, “People who hurt others are wounded themselves.” When I get those negative comments, I’ll allow myself to feel the pain, work through my process, and then move on.

Whether or not I win awards for my writing, I’m willing to come out of my shell, and offer my work to the people who will read it.  I hope that I can affect you and them in positive ways.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014

Published by lucindasagemidgorden

I grew up in the West, the descendant of people traveling by wagon train to a new life. Some of their determination and wanderlust became a part of me. I imagine them sitting around the campfire telling stories, which is why I became first a theatre artist, then a teacher and now a writer. They are all ways of telling stories.

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