No More Cliches

I started writing a post called, “A New Start” the week of Thanksgiving. Here is the beginning of that post:

Giving myself a month in between jobs was an excellent decision. I’ve seen a difference in how I feel physically, mentally and emotionally.

Monday morning, the first song I heard was the Goo Goo Dolls’ cover of “Give a Little Bit.” I smiled as I sat up in bed. For me, this song is my soundtrack to new beginnings. It was played often during my junior and senior years of high school and my dad and I would listen to it as we drove around the county in our old gray farm truck doing chores and running errands, getting things done. It’s the first song that played at the 2006 Indiana FFA State Convention after my teammates and I were elected to state office. It reminds me that it is indeed better to give than to receive.

The month off gave me time to shake a lot of negativity and pressure off. I was being really hard on myself for not being perfect. It used to be that I was a perfectionist, and I had to learn to let certain things go. However, with the job being what it was, that tendency was back by force, and it wasn’t good.

I found in the last month of being back home, a place where I am able to be myself, that I wasn’t being myself at all. My external circumstances were determining my internal feelings, and that wasn’t healthy.

Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber from Veggie Tales

On Saturday, I worked at the concessions stand during a high school wrestling match. This is an activity I used to enjoy. But Saturday, I really struggled. I was holding back, not talking to people, even those I knew, and as a result, I had a tough time doing the job right. I would try to do everything, one reason being that’s how I used to do things and the other reason being, work had brought that out in me. I hated it. I didn’t rely on fellow concession workers. That was just plain silly. [Yes, I used the word silly in the draft. Makes me think of Veggie Tales and Larry the Cucumber being told, “Stop being so silly!“]

Saturday night, I sat down and said, “This can’t keep happening. Where is my sense of self?” And I wrote down all the things I would do and the risks I would take.

The next morning, I woke up at six and went outside to run for the first time in a year….

I didn’t complete that post. I don’t remember why. But as 2015 began, I thought, “A new start. I truly feel it this time.”

It was true. I was bouncing all over the house on New Year’s Day. My shoulders were freer. I smiled easily. I slid across the kitchen floor in Carhartt wool socks, one pink and one purple, two colors highly unusual for me to wear. Project ideas came easily, and I was not afraid to pursue them.

I had left 2014 behind.

It had not been a fantastic year for me. From collapsing at work to a car wreck to leaving a good salary with full benefits, I tripped and fell over and over again. I was bruised physically, mentally and emotionally. I barely could hold myself up.

Eventually, I found a good back brace. I started talking to friends. I moved back home.

Now that I have gone through the month of not working and have started substitute teaching and writing again, I can look back and say, “I really had lost my sense of self, and I am slowly regaining it.”

One reason that happened was cliches.

I didn’t realize it at first. As a writer, I’ve learned that I need to avoid cliches like the plague. Find something different, something that will really resonate with readers. An audience doesn’t want to hear the same old song and dance.

Despite internalizing these lessons, I had internalized cliches I constantly heard for over a year, and I had started to live them. They had worked their way into my mind and self-confidence, even though I did my best to defend myself against them:

“We’ve never done that before.”

A phrase that strikes a knife in my heart of pioneer strengths and twists it. Not simply because it is said, but because what follows is, whether the line is said out loud or not, “We aren’t going to try it even if it looks like it’ll work because we’ve never done it before.”

“We have to be perfect.”

Another phrase that deadens part of my soul. I am one of those people who learns best through trial by fire, and although it burns, the lesson sticks. Sometimes, I wish I didn’t learn this way, but that’s just who I am.

“Step outside your comfort zone.” 

Stepping out.

This cliche worked when I was learning to challenge myself and go beyond my self-imposed limits. However, during this past year, I reached the point where I had pushed so much to adapt to the area, often working against my strengths, that I completely lost my effectiveness. I could no longer work to my best ability or think clearly, and the mistakes I was making were signs that I was cracking badly. I felt like an eggshell, not knowing when I would fall to pieces on the floor.

And even though I had stopped hearing those phrases said out loud, they still drummed inside my head. During my month’s sabbatical, I’d work on new projects that seemed crazy and make plans I never thought I’d be able to make, and those cliches would crescendo, louder and louder until I’d stand in the middle of my bedroom, paralyzed, afraid to even take a step. The conclusion was obvious:

“You’re not good enough.” 

Your writing’s no good, your pictures are no good, you can’t train a herding dog, you don’t even remember that the tractor needs to be in high gear to go faster. You gave the wrong answer to the sixth grader’s math problem, you said the wrong thing to a sensitive fifth grader, you misread the instructions on a freelancer application and were five words short, you idiot. You are not good enough. 

This is a battle I have fought again and again. External circumstances were determining my internal thoughts and emotions, something I am quick to encourage others not to let happen. But now, here I was.

So in November, when I wasn’t myself and the voice(s) in my head kept saying,

“What makes you think you can do that? It’s not perfect, it’s not going to work, what a stupid idea! You’re not good enough,”

I finally said,

“Yes, I am.”

After all, somebody had to tell the voice(s) in my head to stop it with those worn-out cliches. And since I’m the only one who hears them, well…guess it had to be me.

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