3 Paralyzing Statements That Keep You from Your Best Work

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Emily P. Freeman, a writer who creates space for souls to breathe. Her newest book, A Million Little Ways, is an invitation to uncover the art you were made to live. Connect with her at her blog or on Twitter @EmilyPFreeman.

Seth Godin hosted a day-long gathering in Tribeca last summer, one I didn’t attend but heard a lot about. My husband went with my dad and brother-in-law, and they came back to report on a simple, two-word theme for attendees:

Pick Yourself.

pick yourself
Photo credit: Emily P. Freeman

You already have what you need to move into your world — so move. Contribute. Make art. Stop waiting to be picked.

It sounds right and maybe even easy. But why, then, are so many of us still waiting to be picked?

There are as many obstacles to showing up in the world as there are people. Here are three paralyzing statements that keep me from my best work — and maybe they do the same to you.

“Someone else can do this better.”

Someone else can write better, love better, lead better, speak better, teach better, design better, parent better, or pray better. It doesn’t matter what your art is.

The reality that someone else can do it better often keeps me from wanting to do it at all. It’s a courage stealer. But there is a way to combat it:


It might seem counter-intuitive at first, but consider the freedom — Yes, someone else can do it better and they probably already have.

There is nothing to win, so you are free to stop competing with the world.

You don’t have to be the best one saying or living something true. You just have to be yourself.

Consider the impact this constant measuring and weighing is having on your soul. Agree that someone else can do it better. But also agree that doesn’t mean you can’t do it, too.

You may not be the first or the best to say it or live it, but your saying or living it may be the first time someone finally hears.

Make art, anyway.

“I’m not ready.”

Maybe you think it isn’t the right time to show up. Maybe you don’t feel ready to write that book, try for a baby, take that job, quit the one you’ve got.

But showing up where you are with what you have is all you can do. You have your two hands, your sick parents, the items on your to-do list.

You have your extra deadlines, your diagnosis, the children at your table. You have been given your life, what you hold in your hands, the ground beneath your feet. You have been asked to show up.

How do I know?

Because you were born.

It’s true, it might not be the right time to do a certain thing, pursue a particular endeavor, or make a final decision. But a lot of times we confuse readiness with courage.

Courage is not the absence of fear. If you wait to feel courageous before you release your art, you might be waiting forever. The more we live from who we most deeply are, the more courage will grow. (Feel free to tweet that.)

“I’m wasting my time.”

It’s hard to pick yourself when you don’t think it’s going to make any difference.

The only reason we would ever call something a waste of time is because we have a certain idea of success and anything short of that idea we label “waste.” Or maybe we are adhering to someone else’s idea of success and we adopt it as our own.

For writers, this might be something like this: My writing is only worth it if I get a book published.

If you are worried that your art is a waste of time, perhaps you need to redefine success in art. [Tweet that]

Does someone else believe in you? Has someone been inspired by your art in some way? Perhaps the most important question:

Are you becoming more fully yourself?

There is courage in connection — with your truest self, with the truest self of others, and with God.

If practicing your art brings you closer to this kind of connection, if it allows you to be vulnerable in ways you weren’t able to be before, then your art has not been wasted.

Did this post resonate with you? Check out Emily’s new book, A Million Little Ways on Amazon.

What are the statements keeping you from your best work? What obstacles hold you back from picking yourself? Share in the comments.

Emily P. Freeman is a writer who creates space for souls to breathe. Her newest book, A Million Little Ways, is an invitation to uncover the art you were made to live. Connect with her at her blog or on Twitter @EmilyPFreeman.

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41 thoughts on “3 Paralyzing Statements That Keep You from Your Best Work

  1. Emily, it’s clear that we’re currently going down a similar path with our creative endeavors as indicated by our exchange on Twitter yesterday. (which, by the way prompted this post that I published this morning.

    “If you are worried that your art is a waste of time, perhaps you need to redefine success in art.”

    Going along with the idea of creative dissatisfaction, this is definitely something I need to think about. With my design and with my writing, I have a tendency to focus on how I feel about — rather than what my readers and site visitors think.

    Great stuff today, definitely some encouragement that I needed. Thanks for writing it!

  2. “are you becoming more fully yourself?” gracious these words struck something deep inside my soul. i love this post. I think that the fear of becoming my best self – sometimes paralyzes me. Why is that? Why are we afraid of being successful? Thanks so much for this.

  3. Love this post, Emily.

    I am often gripped with ‘they can do this better than me’ when this can be reframed to say ‘they are doing this differently to me’.

    When I feel this, I take a step to connect with the person – learning from their talent and connect with them through the art of writing.

    it’s a work in progress !

    – Razwana

  4. Great post. We artistic types are very good at holding ourselves back in this way and then wondering why we are not achieving. I trawl writers’ blogs for writing advice and some of the best I have found is to let go of the ‘dream’ of being a writer and head instead for realistic goals. This also means seeing yourself as a success when you achieve little steps along the way to your goal. For me, it wasn’t until I started a writer’s blog that I felt allowed to call myself a writer. Previously I had assumed I needed to have books published, and the word ‘writer’ written on my passport. Now I see every blog post written and every hour spent on my novel as an achievement – which is much more encouraging! Check out my blog at https://creakydoorwriter.blogspot.co.uk/ if you get a chance. Thanks!

  5. Great stuff Emily! …living from who we most deeply are… …we confuse readiness with courage… Loved it. Thank you for your courage and contribution.

  6. Beautiful reminder, Emily. I heard you speak a few years back at She Speaks. One of the things your said then that has stayed with me…”Leave your unique trail beauty no matter how small.” That’s my goal. And, I love this. “You don’t have to be the best one saying or living something true. You just have to be yourself.” Amen!

  7. This post was the post that touched my soul. I felt the pinch and knew why I edit and re-edit, and re-re-edit some more after that to make it “perfect”. The truth of the matter is there may be a word or two, a punctuation out of place but I’m human. And yes I am an editor who has an editor but I am reminded of an acquaintance who had her book published. We all bought it and no one, and I do mean no one read beyond the first page. Grammatically it was a disaster and I told her that I would assist in editing it with her. I remember the horrible comments people made about her book and it shook me. She was the first of our group to be published. I’m afraid that people will read mine and tear it grammatically apart; but there was something about your post that reminded me that I was sent here to have the Voice speak through me. I will not be accepted by all. I will not be liked for what I say. And I will not ever be comfortable again so I might as well get use to being comfortable, being uncomfortable. Still squeamish but not as much Jeff after reading your blog but you know what? It will pass. Thank you for reminding me! (Ask me how many times I edited this comment…lol!)

    1. Lana, I think we all have those few voices that rage against our courage – and isn’t it so paralyzing? It helps me to carry out my fears to their logical conclusions and realize if the worst happens, if I publish it and they absolutely hate it, good news! I am not dead.

      Sounds extreme, but it helps sometimes to go to the extreme and realize the worst isn’t really that bad after all.

  8. Love your post, Emily. I especially enjoying considering writing as an art and a success if it has inspired others.

  9. Couldn’t agree more Emily. Amazing how much easier it is to believe the little lies in our heads while ignoring the things we’ve known to be true for a long time. I don’t remember who said it, but something that has always stuck with me is when someone said, “Never doubt in the dark what you knew to be true in the light.”
    So often, these “paralyzing statements” rear their ugly heads when things are just starting to get dark. Thanks for the reminder Emily!

    1. YES. That is true for the literal dark as well – I find my most vulnerable times is at night when I can’t sleep – I tend to question my work more during the night than in the light of day.

      Great points, Keith.

  10. “You don’t have to be the best one saying or living something true. You just have to be yourself.”
    Love, love, love this post, Emily. Looking forward to reading your book! The trailer was amazing.

    1. Thanks, Tammy! Caleb Rexius did that trailer and captured the essence of the message so well, I thought.

  11. Interestingly enough every time I prepare to write a story someone else publishes it! When I was younger, in high school, my English teacher was the first objective person to make me feel like what I had to say was worth listening to. I’ve struggled with that throughout the rest of my life even with something as simple as they keep publishing what I’m writing before I can publish it. LOL I always said I needed to carry him around in my pocket. LOL.

  12. Love the whole thing Emily. I think the thing that can stop me is to think that my dream has to be perfect. That I can’t start until I figure it all out. I’m pushing past it most of the time but it does rear it’s ugly head from time to time. Thanks again.

    1. Oh yes – that perfectionism casts a long shadow, doesn’t it? Waiting to start until you have it figured out sounds great but doesn’t require any courage or risk. And creativity doesn’t really happen without those. Appreciate your comment.

    2. Zech, I ditto what you said. I, too, stopped letting it just be about writing and started turning it into a production. I had to have an office. Then I had to paint the office. Then I had to have a desk. Then I had to hang some pictures … before I knew it, the calendar had changed from 2012 to 2013 and I’d gotten nothing written. I had a beautiful new office … but it had never functioned the way it was supposed to … as just a space to write.

      Best of luck to you.


  13. Mentioned and quoted you, Emily and Jeff, on my blog today at cheriewrites.blogspot.com
    Thanks for the guest post. Enjoy reading both of you.

  14. I love the insight and wisdom you shared here Emily. I’ve discovered some of the same things in a different way especially about redefining success. I love the idea of asking am I becoming more of who I really am and connecting with my true self, God and others true self.
    Keep up the good writing!

    1. Thanks, Sharon. I have to continually ask myself that question – about becoming more fully myself – because it’s really the only result I can control.

  15. Outstanding yet again. I was just taking a break from writing about roadblocks that get in the way of our dreams and this email popped into my inbox. What an encouraging confirmation that was! Brilliant 🙂

  16. Sometimes I’ll try to convince myself: I’m not an expert. Who am I to write about this…
    The part of your post that choked me up?
    “Because you were born.”

    Thanks for doing some heavy lifting with this post Emily. Well done.

  17. I have to agree with Brian the part that made me rethink things I currently have on the writing block and begin to take a new look was the statement,

    “Because you were born”

    There’s a reason those stories are on my desk top. Now to share them with others. I’ve already published one book now its time for the next one, and so on until they reach those they were meant to reach. Thank you.

  18. Emily and Jeff, thank you. I sit in the I’m not ready place far to often. I don’t have a degree. I don’t know enough. I’m not good enough….I’m not ready. The fact is if I never start I will never be “ready.” I am putting those words to bed and waking up new ones: the time is now and I am enough. Amy

  19. Those statements are all very familiar to me. And I agree, they can be paralyzing. But your question, “Are you becoming more fully yourself?” gives me a new measuring line for success. Thank you for that!

  20. This is such a true statement – There is nothing to win, so you are free to stop competing with the world.
    I belong to a book club and we take turns hosting the club at our homes complete with a meal centered around the book’s theme. A friend, Christy, in the club is an outstanding cook and host and always makes the night a wonderful event. One time when I was hosting and preparing, I felt like such a failure and wouldn’t measure up to what Christy does. My husband said to me, “Let Christy be good at this. It’s her gift and it’s not like you’re competing with her are you?” He was so right and his words were so freeing to me. – Let her be good at it, it’s her gift.

    1. your comment stood our amongst all the other ones…why…i think because i am a member of a bookclub too and i recognize immediately what you said. but then again it is so enriching that every member shares his personal feel with the book and the inbringing of every member may be so different but so true because true to that person! your husband is so right too!

  21. All 3 of these sound very familiar… The one I struggle with most is “I am not ready”. Another one that really holds me back is “What will my family/friends think of me?”. I love the idea of taking the next step and really stepping into who I want to be, but it’s the reaction from others that intimidates me. As crazy as it sounds, what other people think of my choices influences me a lot, and I am making a conscious effort to slowly put an end to it.

  22. My greatest problem is actually getting distracted very easily. Then realizing time is almost gone, then giving up trying.

  23. I find the first and third of these statements the most debilitating – together with another one for us oldies, “I’ve left it too late”. Comparing ourselves with others, in art as in other aspects of our lives, is often pointlessly demoralizing – we only tend to see the excellence and success in others and the flaws and inadequacies in ourselves.

  24. I have this problem a lot, i look through other people’s blog and i think to myself he can write better then me, his blog layout looks amazing. All round his blog looks better then mine.
    The way i over come this is think to myself, i am not him and he is not me, he has bettter qualitys then i do but i have better quality him…

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