I want to be frank with you and open up about one of my most significant sources of insecurity and self-doubt. I suck at writing. I am not going to beat around the bushes or be coy about it. I genuinely don’t see myself as anything but a mediocre, reluctant writer.
I’m not trying to be humble here. I rarely know what I am doing. And if it wasn’t for Wendy, boy, would I be making a fool of myself.
Nevertheless, I write. I write for us and you. And I do so because honestly, I learned that I couldn’t (not) write.
Let me explain.
Parenting and Coping Mechanisms
Ever since I was aware and conscious of my surroundings, I have been a reserved and introverted boy. Interacting with people was a hazardous endeavor that seemed fruitless and unpredictable in my young mind. Consequently, I would shy away from any unfamiliar faces.
Indeed, I liked my shell, and for most of my formative years, I stayed in it; Venturing out only when extremely necessary.
What does that have to do with the fact that I suck at writing?
For me, writing was that thing that I was always doing; Not necessarily by choice, mind you, but a large part of my early memories comprises of sitting with my mom to do my homework as diligently as possible. Furthermore, I wasn’t necessarily a diligent boy back then, but I learned to behave like one. After all, I enjoyed the company and support of my parents.
My parents raised me in a time of financial struggle and uncertainty. As a result, they had to make many compromises and stretch themselves thin with work and parenting responsibilities. Of course, this meant less time for little introverted Juan to have with the figures he trusted the most.
Soon enough, I developed the habit of writing regularly outside of schoolwork for fun; Mostly journaling and storytelling. I believe this was a coping mechanism of sorts to stay closer to my parents while also expanding my capacity to build and inhabit my world.
All was good and dandy except for one little thing. I was not good at literature.
Like, at all.
I hated reading, and writing essays and reports was one of the most trying experiences I recall from school.
Backward Education, Cultural Norms, and Commitment
Despite being an excelling student for most of my tenure in school, literature was that subject that dragged all the other grades down from “Wow, this kid is going to do something special in his life” to “Oh, again in the top 5, keep it up.“
And we are talking about Spanish literature, by the way. There’s way more grammar stuff to learn in that language.
All in all, I was not happy with what I was learning, and the journey of education felt like a forced trial of endurance and wit.
Despite my admiration for some extraordinary works of literature and my keenest to express my creativity in writing form, I felt that I was not getting it.
Later on, I had the responsibility of becoming a father figure thrust on me by sad circumstances out of anybody’s control. I was still in my teens and learning to adapt to the new dynamics of social school life; Too early for an introverted young boy. Still, even that didn’t shake away my tendency to avoid exposing myself to criticism and judgment from others.
Nonetheless, I decided to embrace the responsibility with dignity, ignore my ambitions, and do what I needed to do; Get a job.
For more context, growing up in my family meant that I had to take on responsibilities and follow in my seniors’ footsteps early in life. The notion of “securing a job as soon as possible and ensuring stability” was law —a traditional family value in our culture.
What that means is that you have to commit to a stable and ‘respectable’ career early on and dismiss any non-viable endeavors. Creativity and exploration with your life are seen with skepticism at best and frown upon and discouraged at worst.
So I committed.
I committed to the career that I was most excited about and fully embraced my role in the order of things; Ensuring stability and income.
I became an Engineer.
A Fool’s Dissatisfaction
Now, make no mistake. I love my career. I love the capacity that I have earned to create solutions to complex problems and bring commodity, prosperity, and joy to millions of people worldwide with the right idea and a talented team. However, I didn’t feel fulfilled. And I think most of you reading this can sympathize with that feeling.
Soon after I joined the workforce in my country, my mind and desires were looking for opportunities elsewhere in the world. At that point, I was already completely burnt out. I was foolishly attempting to make a living, care for my family, all while finishing my degree.
I was dissatisfied and utterly disillusioned with the opportunities available to me, and, to be honest, I needed some degree of separation from my family.
My world was somewhere else. I needed to find myself.
So I applied to many jobs, many programs, many paths that would take me out of my country. One of the prerequisites was, of course, to validate my English skills —rightfully so. And I was ready to knock this one out, no biggie.
Yet, I failed —hard.
A Father’s Wisdom
For context, English was a subject I was good at and enjoyed studying. Moreover, I relished the process of learning a new language, and the progress I was making was applicable in my day-to-day life —go figure.
My father was constantly pushing for me to learn the language and, in his words, “be ready to take the future that others won’t.“
Of course, I was a bit young at the time to properly understand why a language I only heard in movies and music would influence my capacity to “take the future,” as he said. But I didn’t mind that much. I was enjoying the journey. And the process was not too tedious or the responsibilities so heavy to get in the way.
Regardless his wisdom proved to be correct.
I studied at school and supplemented those studies with some extra hours every weekend in an English education institute. For three years, I polished my skills and worked my way to speak the language —although shy and riddled with mistakes. Soon enough, I was confident in my second language and my capacity to open any doors behind it.
IELTS proved how wrong I was.
If you’re unfamiliar with the IELTS English test, it is a test made by the UK government to assess a persons’ ability to speak the language in an academic setting; Mostly to evaluate potential university applicants.
It is also used for immigration programs in certain countries to measure the capacity of a migrant’s ability to speak and adequate themselves to an English-speaking country.
I was interested in the latter.
The knowledge that the process was going to be an uphill battle was not foreign to me. After all, I have been jumping hurdles since early in life, but somehow I expected life to give me this one on a silver platter; Nothing but an immature wish from a frustrated boy.
Eventually, the reality that this would not be a smooth process settled in. Life pounded the snot out of me, but I was not ready to drop the gloves, not yet.
I proceeded to bunker down and work on my deficiencies. I worked hard to find what I didn’t know and learn it while also unlearning what I thought was right, but wasn’t.
I was then ready to take it on again.
And I did, again, and again, and again, and again…
Do you see where this is going?
You see, this was not a simple test of learning all the answers. It wasn’t even a test of my knowledge or capacity in the English language. This test was a wall.
No matter how much I prepared and worked on the flaws that had previously prevented me from succeeding, another hurdle would arise. Another area in this test would prove too much for me. The minimum magic score seemed unattainable, regardless of my dedication.
Why? Well, the issue was not my lack of knowledge or determination; the issue was my mindset.
Chasing a Breakthrough
Despite living in Tokyo by this point, mostly speaking in English with coworkers and friends, I continued to fail in this basic test. And I did, three more times, to the awe of my peers.
I was disheartened —and kind of impressed with myself.
Now, if you have been paying attention, you might already know what area I was failing in.
Every time I failed, a little part inside of me was breaking more and more. I was facing my inadequacies head-on, and I had no way to brush it off or escape the challenge. My hunger to move ahead in life brought me back to the testing chair every time with a new pen and resolution in my heart.
Despite the motivation and support I got from loved ones, they couldn’t help me with the inner pain I was experiencing. Every failed attempt felt like I was disrespecting their wishes and the effort they put into supporting me.
I was facing the prospect of stagnation and career suicide if I didn’t figure this out. I needed a breakthrough. But I just couldn’t find one.
A Reluctant Writer
The reason my mindset was the roadblock preventing me from overcoming the challenge was that I was afraid. I didn’t believe I could be a talented writer, and I feared trying. I wasn’t ready to accept that I neglected my inner desire to embrace writing; To see it as more than just a hurdle.
I was studying, strategizing, analyzing every mistake I made, but I wasn’t looking at my writing. I didn’t need to examine my work or overthink the grammar. I needed to do the writing. And lots of it.
My mindset was of victimhood. I was trying to force my way through the challenge without actually working on the root problem.
It wasn’t until I decided to sit down and write, be uncomfortable, bored, and miserable with myself that my writing started to improve. Once I embraced the fact that I need to lean into my writing and not run away from expressing myself, things started changing for the better.
Incidentally, I have a strong sense of morality and a sensitive heart. I have always felt like I wanted to do what was right, be there for others and fight the bullies back —hence this website. However, I would clash with people more often than not, and writing was always a good way for me to process my emotions and thoughts constructively.
Alignment and Creativity
I’m still in that process. And I still feel uncomfortable, bored, and sometimes discouraged. But now, I can say that I am in proper alignment with myself.
I’m expressing creativity through an elegant medium that can reach so many people. The process of making something that can outlast me and serve as a record of my identity brings a lot of joy to my life.
The bottom line is if you are struggling with a challenge and can’t seem to figure out why you keep failing, remember, be mindful of your mindset. Being aligned with our values and self can show you the path to figure out the real roadblock.
I am having a fantastic time writing.
So, yeah. That was a bit of a long story, but I needed to share the challenges I have faced to get to where I am now. Hopefully, it touches you in some way.
I am now writing regularly for this blog and collaborating with other companies to create content that brings value to people. I genuinely enjoy what I do and no longer feel diminished or intimidated by my limited mindset.
From here to the moon!
PS: If you’re wondering, no, I didn’t retake the test to pass it. Life got complicated, and my priorities shifted.
Incidentally, even though I was already in a better place career and life-wise while living in Tokyo, I was still obsessed with passing the test. I needed to prove to myself that I was not going to be defeated.
I no longer waste my time on things that won’t help me or produce value in my life.
Feel free to let me know how my writing is on Twitter or Instagram. We would love to hear from you.
See you in the next post.
Cover photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash