When I was in college, I posted a quote above my desk for those times when self-doubt crept in and made me question who I was and what I was doing with my life. The quote is by John A. Shedd: "A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for." Though brief, this quote is powerful and thought-provoking.
Lately I've been returning to this quote for many reasons. The biggest reason is that on August 17th the book my sister, Catherine, and I co-wrote was published. We worked on our book, Youth's Highest Honor: Your Guide to Earning the Congressional Award and Building Life Skills, for three years on and off while balancing college and internships. We wrote Youth's Highest Honor with the intention that others would read it, of course, but at that time it was comforting knowing that it was for our eyes only. We, and our book, were safe in the harbor.
It wasn't until we had finished writing the content that we moved into the editing phase. This meant new eyes on our writing. As much as we love feedback and learning new ways to improve, it's still not easy hearing criticism of something you pour your heart and time into. Luckily in the editing phase there's still time to make changes. We were slowly moving away from the harbor and putting ourselves out there.
We officially left the harbor when our book was made available on Amazon. Our work is out there in the world for others to read, critique and hopefully enjoy. The best thing about being out of the harbor? New experiences, different sights, and learning how to navigate the unpredictable waters.
I learned a lot throughout my book writing journey. These were my four biggest takeaways:
1. There are hundreds of ways you could write your book. You could write from the perspective of first person or third person, you might have graphics, or it might have a more serious tone. Just write the way you want to write because there is no one right way.
2. Set deadlines, because you can always be editing. Even when you've edited your manuscript until your eyes go blurry (rinse and repeat), there will always be something else to change. It might be a misspelled word you can't believe you didn't catch during the first 35 editing rounds, a word you know you could've found a better synonym for, or the order in which you present new information. At some point, you need to be happy with what you have created or you'll never get your ship out of the harbor.
3. Turn self-doubt into productivity. If you're going to have moments of self-doubt anyways, you might as well make it work for you. Instead of letting your doubts fester and grow into an unnecessary fear, think about why you are feeling doubtful of your abilities and use that knowledge to better yourself. Self-awareness is key to improving.
4. A little bit goes a long way. When we wrote Youth's Highest Honor, we did it bit by bit. Chapter by chapter. We wrote various sections at different times, depending on what we were inspired by. Create an outline and then jump around within it -- you can piece everything together at the end. Maybe you write every day, maybe it's just once a week. Journeys are the act of traveling from one place to another. You don't follow a straight line and you don't get there all at once. It takes time to get from where you start to where you want to be, even if you don't know for sure where it is you want to end up. Keep taking steps forward, and before you know it, you'll have covered quite the distance.
Whether you're writing a book, choosing a college, deciding on a job, starting your own business, or figuring out where to move, the best thing you can do for yourself is get out of your harbor. The waters will be choppy and you might get lost at times, but when you put yourself out there you will see what you are truly made of and will learn a lot along the way.