Thursday, May 26, 2016

Shoutout to My Negative Voice

On May 16th I presented the pre-conference “It’s Always Been Done that Way: The Conundrum of Us versus Them (and what we can do about it, maybe)” at the New Jersey Library Association Conference in Atlantic City, NJ. People ask, ‘how did it go?” I definitely do mention that I had a lot of fun, but mostly I just say “it sure did happen!”

I don’t say this to humblebrag or intentionally sell myself short. I say this because to me the best outcome was “it happened.”

Because it almost didn’t happen. Twice.

Twice I found myself with a fully written email to my wonderful NJLA contact, Sophie: the person who reached out so many months ago about crafting a proposal, the person who negotiated with me and the Conference Committee from a single session to a pre-conference + panel, the person I sent my entire presentation to in a nervous burst a few days before the conference, the person who absolutely believed in me throughout this entire process. Twice I found myself hovering over the “send” button on an email that was basically forfeiture: I cannot do this. I am sorry.

One time, I was sitting on my bed in tears with my cat on my lap. I had taken the day off work to get to the meat of my presentation. Attached to these musings I’ve written over the months have been very real painful feelings. I realized as I started to write my preconference that I had only truly worked through some of them. Didn’t it sound good to just take a day off and NOT willingly put myself in deep emotional pain? Why did I sign up for this?

As much as the term has been thrown around the library world, and as much as it sounds like where this post is going: I have come to the conclusion that I do not suffer from impostor syndrome. Impostor Syndrome implies that I would be afraid of being “found out” as a “fraud”. Truth be told: this is not me. Someone who speaks up at meetings against people who have 15 years of experience and 3 degrees up on them does not have impostor syndrome. My entire journey into “It’s Always Been Done That Way” is predicated on the idea that “in my heart I know I’m not a fraud, so WTF happened?”—that first post and everything after would not have happened if I had impostor syndrome.

However: I do have a negative voice.

My negative voice nags at the back of my head about everything I should be doing more or better or less or worse. It used to be there constantly. In the past few years I’ve been able to keep it pretty quiet—the one exception being directly on my birthday. When I was 19 I decided that my birthday would be the day that I could take an inventory of my life and figure out if I “could be” the age I was turning. In my teenage brain, this was so I was constantly aware of how I was doing and I would never let myself wake up one day and wonder where everything went wrong.

This was a huge mistake.

Now, every year my birthday awaits me with a double-down of my negative voice. I thought maybe the voice would be satiated this year, telling me I was doing well: landed a new job, taught a class. Sure! But NOPE: my negative voice decided for my birthday that I should be writing/should have written a book already to successfully “be” my age. If I already I had? I wouldn’t have won anyway. In my negative voice’s back pocket is the patriarchal trope “Okay, but you’re still fat and ugly,” its un-originality made up for in its frequency and disregard for numerical fact at different stages in my life. It's this voice that keeps me doing more and more, not some desire to "Do Everything" or "Be [Librarian] Famous" or whatever else someone outside my head could decide to attach to my actions.

Now, many people with feelings may read through this so far and want to say, “You’re successful! You’re not fat/ugly/purple/whatever!” and to that I would say what many people may already know: Those things you say don’t matter. If anything, it would make it worse, because that negative voice can now say that the people who read this blog are lying to me. So let’s not do that. The negative voice doesn’t care about the facts or perceptions of anyone else.

I’ve been able to quiet my negative voice in part with the scripts at Captain Awkward about jerkbrain. I also have learned a lot about shame-based statements. I’ve come to recognize when someone is using a shame-based statement, and calling it out at least to myself. This includes my negative voice. The implication of basically any statement it says is SUPPOSED to be “and therefore you are undeserving/a screw-up/worthless”. 

If you take the shame implied out of that statement, however, the self-dialogue ends there:
Negative Voice: you’re fat and ugly!
Rest of my Brain: yeah, well. Anyway we’re taking our fat and ugly self and doing this cool thing now.
Negative Voice: But fat and ugly--
Rest of my brain: Here goes.

Writing and presenting this preconference was quite literally one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I put myself directly into a hopeless frame of mind to actually invite the attendees to that place within themselves to find a place from which they could enact a positive change of their workplace culture.  And for it, my negative voice was poised and ready. It started staying with me long after my writing sessions where I called to mind memories it is definitely attached to.

So I’ve had to consciously and actively speak to my negative voice again, redundant in my self-dialogue; but I can already feel it quieting down. Maybe calling it out here will help some more. Maybe this post will help other people with their own negative voices feel less alone. Which wouldn’t be too bad as it is. I can live with my negative voice; that doesn't mean I have to listen to it.

So: This is a shout out to my negative voice. You’ve made me a more empathetic person, funnily enough. You didn’t want me to do this preconference, and I did anyway; and hey, it was pretty fine and I disassociated way less than you said I would and no one booed.

We’ve got my whole life together AND I AM GOING TO LIVE IT so:
yeah, well.
Here goes.


  1. "It's this voice that keeps me doing...". That moment when someone reaches into your brain and your heart and says all the things. Hi friend, nice to know you.

    1. Hi, Amy! I am happy to comisserate. I definitely think there's a misconception that a desire to be "shiny" in some way pushes us to do more, when really sometimes it is an intense fear of perceived mediocrity from within ourselves. Even though everything extracurricular I'm doing now was stuff that I was asked to do-rather than volunteer or apply-AND it all directly affects my job in a positive way, I've learned in the next year that I still need to pare down. And I know my negative voice will hate it. So hopefully this can be the start of something supportive.

  2. Wow. Good for you. I have a negative voice too. You do an amazing job of telling yours off.

    1. Thank you so much, Cheryl. Your commenting means a lot!

  3. I wasn't ready to read this when you wrote it -- but I'm glad I have now. Thank you for baring your squishy insides. It helps a lot to know that people I respect and admire have had the same struggles that I have.