Walking the Tightrope of Inner Tension

Woman silhouette balancing on rope over blue sky

To be a ghostwriter is to be a behind-the-scenes character. As I write my book, I’m attempting to force myself out into the light. 

This isn’t a new pattern. These two sides of my identity have always been in tension with each other in one way or another. I’m an introvert to my core and I’ve never relished being in the spotlight. Among the most uncomfortable memories of my childhood are whenever it was time for my family to sing “Happy Birthday” and watch me blow out the candles (can’t we just eat cake and open gifts?). And yet, being on stage singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” solo during a school concert when I was in third grade also left me buzzing with my chest puffed up for weeks.

I’ve always simultaneously sought out attention and shied away from it whenever it showed up. So what do self-aware folks do when they discover a tension like this within themselves? Let’s see.

1. Resist the urge to label the tension.

Discovering an inconsistency within yourself can feel “icky.” According to at least one view of happiness, it’s all about figuring out what you value and then, designing your life to be aligned with those values. We’re trained to stamp out any inconsistencies we find. This perspective suggests that internal tension leads to misery.

On the other side of the spectrum are those who see tension as a driver of progress: “Ooh, you’ve discovered something about yourself that isn’t serving you well. Great! Now you can make a change.” In this story, tension is productive. It is the driving force behind self-improvement.

When I discover a tension like my attention-seeking and attention-resisting behaviors, I resist the urge to think of it as either “good” or “bad.” It helps that I understand myself to be a little unpredictable — and I mean, unpredictable even to myself. I regularly have thoughts like, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” I’ve become comfortable with this aspect of my personality over the years.

So, when I discover (or rather re-discover) this kind of tension within myself, my first reaction is one of curiosity. Instead of wondering how I can destroy my attention-seeking (or attention-resisting) weakness, I ask:

  • How do these two sides of my personality benefit me?
  • Are there benefits to being able to swing from one side of the pendulum to the other?
  • What is charming about attention-seeking behavior?
  • What is charming about attention-resisting behavior?
  • Can I marry the beneficial elements and build on them?

2. Get to the core of the tension.

One of the things I find curious is how I — a perfectly contented ghostwriter — could suddenly have an urge to write my own book. If I were disgruntled with my work or feeling that I deserved credit that was being withheld from me, then the drive to write a book with my name on it would make more sense. But truthfully, I couldn’t be happier with the work I’m doing.

I think about my drive to write this book in the same way I thought about my drive to run a marathon. This brings up another point of tension in my life. I hate running. I always have and I always will. When I tell people about this, they naturally ask, “well then, what made you decide to train to run a marathon?” And I reply, “I wanted to see if I could run 26.2 miles.” Spoiler alert: I could and I did. Twice.

Likewise, I want to see if I can write a book for myself. Of course, I already know I can (just like I already knew I could run a marathon). I’ve written books for other people and I’ve written a book for myself. This can’t be the core of the tension, then.

Here’s what I think is the core of the tension: I like to do things “not everyone can do.” This is another big piece of the puzzle that is my complex identity. When this part of me comes out to play, that’s when things get unpredictable. That’s when things get interesting. The attention-seeking part of me likes to be recognized for doing hard things. Ultimately, this is what explains my desire to write this book.

My work as a ghostwriter has shown me that not everyone can do this. In fact, I’m reminded nearly every day that this is true. And I believe my brain has latched on to this idea.

3. Go to work.

Once we understand the core of the tension, it’s time to go to work. How can I use this tension to make progress?

  • Whenever I feel stuck, I remind myself that I like to do things “not everyone can do.”
  • I also remind myself that there will be recognition at the end of this hard journey. It’s just like running a marathon. I only have to put one word in front of another long enough until the book is finished.

I also need to beware of the ways the core of the tension can sabotage me. Not only can I easily retreat to the attention-resisting side of my personality when sh*t gets too real, I can also use the “I do hard things not everyone can do” mantra as a club to beat myself up. I might say to myself, for example, “you do hard things, so why do you think you deserve a break?”

A particularly important piece of work for me is remembering that because liking to do hard things “not everyone can do” is such a deeply ingrained part of my personality, it can make me unreasonably skeptical of anything that’s easy to do. If I get to a point where writing my book becomes easier (which is my goal), my inner madwoman will tell me I’m doing it all wrong. I need to be on the lookout for these self-sabotaging behaviors. They are the landmines around the field of our work.

In my self-awareness journey, I’m starting to see these internal tensions as the tension of a tightrope (or a slackline). This tension is what carries me from one commitment to the next over the landmines of self-sabotage.

The deeper into my self-awareness experiment I go, the more metaphors I come up with. In many ways, it’s easier to talk about this stuff using metaphors. This is the work. I’ll keep forging ahead, choosing my metaphors carefully, and unwinding them as I find the words. As always, I appreciate the vigil my readers are keeping along my path.

Are you ready to take that first step onto your own tightrope? Let me be your guide. This quiz will give you insight into your writing profile.

Photo credit: hibrida