Getting Over My Giant Failure Complex

It’s a little embarrassing how many times I’ve written this to you, how many ways I’ve slid references to my giant failure complex into blog posts without really addressing it. I’ve made bold claims that I’m going to stop thinking of myself as a failure and start loving the life I’m currently living in a dozen half-hearted ways, but so far I’m still just rocking back and forth on life’s teeter totter: At the top, I am so ridiculously relieved that I am working (because others I love aren’t) and that I have a healthy work-life balance and that my job is mostly fun and engaging, but when the see-saw rocks downward I remember that I thought I would be doing something different.

The “L” word still makes me feel like a loser.

I know in my heart that I am where I need to be, but I have to remind myself all the time that this life I’m living is something to celebrate, not something to mourn. Sometimes I have to say it to friends and have them say it back to me, to tell me it’s okay.  I know that I’m not the only one, but I often feel alone with this. I fold this idea into so much of my blogging because, while this blog is many things to me and hopefully a few things to you, its chief purpose right now is to remind me that life is beautiful and fun and it’s okay to just be who you are I am right now.

I loved law school. I’m not one to say “Oh, it was so hard and I’m so glad it is over,” and I’ve never regretted attending. It was one of the best things I’ve ever committed to doing. It made me smarter and more attentive and a better person. Even now, while I’m not practicing, I still did all of the things to be a licensed attorney and I can go back to being a “real” lawyer whenever I want to, if I ever really want to.

I’m getting tired of trying so hard to convince myself that I am awesome and that I am making a real difference by working hard for my country.  I am already doing these things and it’s become a bit of a broken record for me (and I’m sure not all that interesting for you, my friends). I’d like for this to become a non-issue for me, but it may be a few more months or years before I can really settle into owning my own life and living it for myself. I struggle to surpass expectations that don’t actually exist.

But I think for recovering people-pleasers and perfectionists like me, we often feel like posers in our late twenties. We’re wearing the hats and carrying big titles on freshly minted business cards but are we really good enough to hold this much responsibility? Friends from school are carrying the lives and hopes and dreams of two, or three, or four children already and I can’t imagine ever being qualified for such a hard and important job. Do you ever really feel like you know how to be a mother, a manager, a professor or scholar, or do you just jump in, throwing ideas at the wall, hoping something sticks? I’m always afraid that someone will look over and see that I’m really not as awesome as everyone thinks.  I wonder, if they knew how much television I watched in the evenings, and how rarely I finish the books I’m always buying, if they would still want me to mentor their students, or file their taxes, or write their reports.

I paid real cash monies to register for a faith and writing conference in Grand Rapids in April. And I’ve decided that I don’t want to go to this conference feeling that I’m not qualified to be there. I don’t want to awkwardly shift on my feet or avoid meeting interesting people because when they say “Oh, I write a blog about faith and life and my book is being published in October,” and then ask about me, I don’t have a good enough answer. I want to do whatever it takes before I pick up my rental car and drive two hours and forty-seven minutes around the bottom of Lake Michigan so that, when I step out of my car and into the conference, I believe I am a “real” writer and I believe that I am qualified to engage, network, discuss, and struggle with them to create beautiful sentences.

Tomorrow, Thursday, February 20, is the first of fifty days before my conference begins. This may be a rough-and-tumble sort of commitment, but I’ll be doing “the things that writers do” for each of these fifty days so that I can step into the Grand Rapids community with a few pages I can be proud of, with a project I can discuss, or at the very least with the confidence that I certainly belong at the table. I’m not sure exactly what this will look like, but I’m starting this effort off with a Story Sessions writing boot camp and I’ve been thinking a bit about what I want this to journey to include. I have a working list, but before I put it out into the internet world I wanted to hear from you: what do you recommend? What makes you feel like a “real” writer, or a “real” professional, or a “real” mom, instead of just a poser? What gives you confidence in your calling?  



  1. Jamie Bagley

    Writing words every day even if only a few, and loving it, is what makes me feel like a writer. Maybe it’s five lines in my gratitude journal or a couple of poems, or just some random ideas jotted down for when I have more time. But I have to love it to stick with it.
    I feel like a real mom because I get up every morning and get my kids alive through the day. And I advocate for them and am teaching them to advocate for themselves. I can never do as much as I want to for them, but I love them and love always makes a difference.
    I haven’t arrived at the full measure of what it means to be confident. I do what I must, then do what I like, and I just take life a day at a time and don’t put unrealistic goals on myself like a burden, though maybe like a dream that I will try to make happen. There isn’t a formula. There’s just learning as you go. The closest I can get is: Do what you love as often as you can.
    By the way, it is reasonable to consider a relocation and a new job as traumatic events. Maybe not tragic but still a huge emotional upheaval. It can take time to find the energy to put down roots and spread out branches. Sometimes we need seasons of watching too many tv shows and just resting and recovering from the impact of big changes. Don’t feel guilty about self-care even if it doesn’t appear productive. Sometimes you just need that time to rest and grieve before you rebuild. I understand some of that tension, being uprooted myself many times, but it’s okay to dwell in that place on your own timeline.

    • pink-briefcase

      Thanks so much Jamie. I told you already, but I really appreciate this. I think it is true that I’ve been resting and grieving a bit of my old life but I want to be ready to rebuild too. Hopefully these thoughts are signs that the tide is changing.

  2. Esther Emery (@EstherEmery)

    Do the work. Don’t just talk about it, or think about it (although those things are important) but also DO THE WORK. My confidence comes and goes, too, Mary Beth. I think that’s just part of it. But when I am hitting the blank page with regularity, showing up to do “it” even if I don’t know what “it” is, then it is easier to shake the phantoms that say “real writers are x, y, or z things that you are not.” I am so jealous that you’re going to the conference in Grand Rapids. I wish I were going to that one!!

    • pink-briefcase

      Esther I think I need you to leave me a voice message on my phone that I can play each day when I wake up. It’s like you are reading my mind! I’m so tempted to just keep talking about wanting to be someone or do something but never getting around to actually doing it. I’m following in yours [and Abby’s] footsteps and going all in.

  3. jen

    I read an article on NPR that said,

    “No one on this planet can write me better than me,” Shyamalan finally told them. “That permission to be okay with my flawed, misfit self in my scripts has made them stand out.” (

    I actually remembered that quote from 5 months ago, because I thought it was pretty profound.

    It hit me once, years ago, when I was worried what a bunch of people think about me, that pretty much everybody is only ever thinking about themselves–and that very few people spend much time reliving my side of conversations with them. Though I still worry what people think about me, that realization freed me to assume I’m not being thought of very much, and am therefore free to do a lot of things.

    Am I a “real” writer? Yes and no. Depends on how you define it. Have I written books? No. Do I have a blog that’s just awesome? Heck no. But can I stop writing? No! Thus, a real writer. Am I a “real” artist? Yes! Do I exhibit my art? No. Do I make money off of my art? Certainly not. But, years ago, when my family had a house fire, and I lost a lot of my stuff, I swore never to paint again. I had acquired a full art box and a set of canvases within the next three weeks. Art is in me. And some of what gives me confidence is that I can express my vision better than anybody else can. Like M. Night Shyamalan says, “No one on this planet can write me better than me.” And, regarding the conference you’re going to: everyone else at that conference 1) puts their pants on just like anyone else, and 2) is standing around thinking, “All these people are real writers; what have I done? I better talk about that book coming out in October so they won’t realize what a fraud I am.” Anyone who isn’t thinking that way is probably insufferable anyway.

    I was going to comment on your blog the other day to tell you how much I enjoy your writing voice. I think I’ve said it before, but it’s still true. Keep writing; you’re awesome.

    • pink-briefcase

      Thank you for saying all of this. No one writes me better than me, and I’m okay where I am, and trying is what counts. Also, you are probably SO right about how no one cares about me as much as I do! (I mean, I hope so, because that would be kind of weird, right?) Proud to be your friend.

  4. accidental devotional

    So….I write in a way that is fluffy. I mean, accesible. I want to write an airport novel about death and dying. Is that weird? I used to be embarrassed about that. I mean, my friends are SMART and they write DENSE and smart things. I don’t do that. So what? So what? Writers, they write, butt in chair keys to keyboard. Kate Chopin wrote her books before the kids (five of them!) got up every morning. We write. So write, even if you think it is stupid, or you don’t know what you are doing, or no one else is going to read this anyway. We write. On Momastery yesterday Rachel Held Evans talked about feeling like she was never going to arrive. I mean, GIRL IS A NYT Best seller! She has arrived. It just is always like that. Especially for creatives I think. Writers write.

    • pink-briefcase

      Your words are accessible. They are completely not intimidating and I love that about your voice.

      I know the answer is to just shut up and write but it is so much easier to analyze and talk about something than to actually do something, when that something is hard!! :) Thanks Abby.

      • accidental devotional

        Oh man, my sophmore year speech coach said to me “I know y’all get together and talk about speech and practicing, but that isn’t actually practicing….so….maybe you should do more of that.” Damn. SHe was right though.

  5. Pingback: Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week 2.21.2014 | pink-briefcase
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