Confidence Doesn’t Grow on Trees

Like many writers who work from home, I don’t get the same daily exposure to humanity that a normal person does.

Even though, from my years of working with writers and closet writers, I should know better, I tend to carry the mental picture that most other writers were born naturally confident (which I was not; my confidence fluctuates from day to day). But that’s a typical example of using my imagination in the wrong way. Comparison can be deadly and I know there are more productive things to do with my energy.

Yesterday being a good example. Yesterday, a spontaneous incident of meeting new people buoyed my self-confidence. And one of the many marvelous things about it? I was the one who initiated the contact.

My husband and I were waiting in Bob Evans (a popular Midwest restaurant) to be called by the hostess. A woman standing nearby caught my eye; I felt instant warmth and liking for this person. She seemed very familiar, even though logically I realized I probably didn’t know her. Before I could reason myself out of it (or should I say, chicken out), I walked over and said:

“You look very familiar. Did you ever live in Taos, New Mexico?”

She explained that she’s lived here in the Youngstown, Ohio area for 23 years. I could tell she had a similar feeling about me by the way she kept me there, engaging me with several questions while looking intently into my eyes. She introduced herself and shook my hand; holding on to it just a little longer to let me know this meant something to her.

She revealed that she teaches first graders. Again, before I could ruin the moment by over-thinking, I whipped out the bookmark for my book, Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. I told her about my fun writing prompts and how they can be used by kids.

She mentioned that she journals with her kids everyday. Obviously, she places a high value on teaching writing to our youngest minds. She asked who the book is for. I explained how it’s largely directed at adults, so she would need to use discernment in selecting prompts for her first graders.

At that moment, her party was called for their table. As her companions followed the hostess, she turned to them and said, “I’ll join you in a moment.” What a gracious gesture! A seemingly small courtesy, but now I liked her even more.

As Brian and I were called for our table and the three of us began walking in that direction, I added that she can e-mail me for some of the prompts I’ve designed especially for kids. And that I would love to see any stories her kids write with them.

My husband’s always after me to do more of this kind of one-on-one book promotion. Over the years, I’ve worked on my original attitude (“It’s just showing off” or “They won’t want to hear about this”) and eventually I realized that people really appreciate the information. Plus, everyone enjoys the fun-lovin’ design of my bookmark.

But there was another reason I gave her my bookmark (which leads to my Website and my email address): I wanted to make friends with her. She’s my kind of person.

As Brian and I were examining the menu, her brunch companion (another teacher) hurried up to our table. He was excited because he’d read the bio on the back of my bookmark and noticed that I’d lived in Australia for 25 years. Besides being a math teacher, he’s part of the People to People program: He regularly takes fifth and sixth graders on educational trips to overseas countries. He’s been all over the place, but he said he loves Australia the best.

I loved his enthusiasm and his spirit of giving; it was easy to tell what a nice person he is. I asked him to keep in touch through the e-mail address on my Website and he promised he would. A few minutes later, he came back to our table with his own contact details written on the back of a Bob Evans survey card. He mentioned a writing teacher he knows and how he plans to put her in touch with me.

So, now I have two or three potential new friends for the price of one.

Over the past four years, we’ve had to go where the work is. I’ve lived in Texas, New Mexico, Mississippi and now Ohio. During our time in Mississippi we never really developed a social circle. We didn’t bump into many like-minded people and we felt like fish out of water.

Plus during that time we only had one car, which my husband drove to work each day. You guessed it: my “reclusive writer” tendencies became even more pronounced. Talk about a hermit dwelling in a cave. Except for when my husband was home from work, that’s pretty much how I felt in our gloomy apartment.

When we moved to Ohio last month I was determined to change this situation. But so far I’ve been too busy to join groups. We did go to a party hosted by some of my husband’s new work colleagues—but the two other women at the party don’t live nearby.

It’s not always easy to meet the kind of person you resonate with when you move to a new city. And trying to do it deliberately (as in, hatching strategies for how to get out and meet people) can give it a daunting quality that friendship shouldn’t have.

But now, after yesterday’s surprise behavior, following my heart and my first instincts almost seems like a better deal than joining a group with high expectations. (We all know what can happen with high expectations. . . .)

I guess, no matter which strategy is used, the trick here is: “Don’t try too hard.”

On the other hand, this experience reminded me that confidence doesn’t grow on trees. If you don’t have enough of it, you usually have to make an effort to go out and find more of it.

Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie
Which we ascribe to heaven.

—William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well

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