I was recently inspired by my writing mentor, Jack Grapes. He said something that stuck with me. First published on Feminine Collective read the full article.

Remember, if you’ve made a choice to work in a creative field you must OWN IT—with no hesitation, with no excuses, with NO EXPLANATION. Realize that you belong where you are. Realize that you don’t need recognition, rewards, or reassurance. Realize that you don’t need anyone to validate your worth. When you believe in yourself, when you DO THE WORK, when you decide to commit to that one thing, commit. Get up on your soapbox and say, “I am a … AND I’m wearing the hat!”

I belong to a writing collective. It’s my support group of choice. In our last meeting of the year, our mentor (teacher, guru, genius, muse) gave us a pep talk. Why? Well, I guess he thought we needed one. The pep talk went something like this:

“You know that you are all great writers, don’t you?” (This is from memory, so I’m paraphrasing.)

We looked at him, hesitantly, some with less hesitation than others. Most of us were reluctant to answer “YES” to his question. Here we were, accomplished writers, many published, and definitely all of us accomplished at something and we were reluctant to admit it to ourselves. I know I was.

He then said, “It’s time to wear the hat.”

I knew what he meant. The book Creative Authenticity by Ian Roberts came to my mind. In his book, he talks about how, at some point, we have to jump in. He talks about how, as creatives or artists, we are not alone. He talks about the problems common to the process, to help us understand that we just have to do the work. That, as an artist, we just have to stay the course, no matter what the subject matter. And here I was sitting in Jack Grapes writing collective, and he was telling us to WEAR THE HAT.

I can’t remember, at that moment, if someone said the words I’m trying or if he felt that we weren’t ready to jump in, but he told someone in the group “Try to raise your hand.” The person started raising their hand, and he said,

“No. TRY to raise your hand.”

His point … when you TRY to raise your hand, you are already doing it. So, in other words, we had already jumped in. We were swimming around. We were doing it. We were writing. His Wear the Hat analogy was his way of saying take ownership. Jump in. Do it.

Back to his question:

“You know you are all great writers don’t you?”

I thought about that. I thought about how lucky I felt to have found a group. A group where I felt I belonged. FINALLY. It was a group that I couldn’t wait to get back to week after week. A group led by the most brilliant facilitator of creativity I had ever encountered. A true gem. Before this group, I questioned if I was creative enough. In every field I have pursued, I am always more at ease doing the non-creative part. I’ve been a graphic designer for more than a decade. When designing a website, or print piece or an identity, I always enjoyed doing the product research. Figuring out the target audience. Determining which colors were a good fit. This was my dance of avoidance. The dance of avoiding doing the actual design. Starting was always painful. The design possibilities were limitless, so finding a place to start was nearly impossible. Once I got started, it usually came together.

The same thing happened in my writing. It was easy to write copy for clients. It was easy to write well-researched papers on autoimmune diseases or sports betting or leukemia. All of which I do for clients in my design firm. But sitting down to write creatively, well that I avoided like the plague. The inner dialogue I had with myself was deafening. Where do I start? What do I do? I hadn’t even been consistantly journal writing anymore. But, sometimes, during journal writing, it took me to places I had no idea how I reached. Sometimes it didn’t. I questioned the consistency in my writing. I judged it.

Then I joined this writing group. And the question looming over me, the question “Am I creative enough?” That question. I began to ask myself that question less and less. Week after week, this group, this leader, their support, helped free me from myself. They’ve helped me express my creativity. In this group, I realized that we all have a story to tell. And he was right. It was time to put on that hat and wear it.

He said it again:

“You know you are all great writers don’t you?”

Even though I knew he was right, my heart was still racing. Why did I feel nervous? Why did I want to stop talking about this wear the hat thing?  My life was flashing before my eyes. I came to a realization. I realized that in all my career choices, when I wore the hat, when I took ownership, when I jumped in, I was successful. But wearing the hat had always been a hard pill for me to swallow.

My time as a fashion model

Before I was a designer, I was a fashion model for fifteen years. I remember standing on set thinking “Shit, how am I going to pull this off today?” “What if they don’t like me?” “What if I can’t do what they need?” And, if, for some reason, that happened, I blamed myself. It was never the client’s or photographer’s fault. It was never the weather, the location, the clothing. It was me. I was the broken link. And, I would look in the mirror at the end of that day and say, “Shit Marla, why can’t you own it?” “What’s wrong with you?” I was too worried most of the time about making a fool of myself. I held back. I didn’t go all the way. I didn’t jump in. I wasn’t wearing the hat.

I started modeling at 18. It took me until I was about 28 years old to wear the hat. Unfortunately, by then I was almost too old to model! But, the year I started really wearing the hat, I raked it in. I was working every day. I was flying here and there, getting vouchers signed left and right. I was in demand. My rate went up. It felt good. I remember thinking to myself, if only I’d worn the hat sooner.

I quit modeling shortly after 9/11. Not because of 9/11 but rather because my husband and I decided to leave NYC and move to the West Coast. It took almost a year to sell our brownstone apartment. It was the middle of a recession. Our apartment sold and closed on 8/13, and we left NYC. I flew back now and then for the occasional job. I flew to Europe for the occasional job. But once I got pregnant my focus shifted.

It is hard for me to wear the design hat

Once in California, I went back to school and studied art direction and multimedia design. I’d already had some designing under my belt. I already had clients, before I finished school. Even if I didn’t wear the hat internally, I played the game, externally. You know fake it till you make it. I thought I was fooling everyone. I never dreamed of thinking I was good at what I did, not so early in my career. I had to prove it to myself. I had to have some successes under my belt before I could say I was a designer, that’s how my mind worked. I did many jobs for little money. I did several websites, including all content development for no charge at all. I told myself that I had to have a body of work to show that I could do it. To prove it to myself. I knew I was a better designer than many of the web designers that had popped up all over town with the dot.com boom, but I always looked further. I always strived to be the best of the best—a design guru. Until then, until I had won awards, until I had proven my abilities, I hid. I over-delivered and undercharged. I didn’t feel like I belonged with my peers. I didn’t join AIGA (the professional association for design) for fear of having them judge my work. I wasn’t wearing the hat.

Through the past decade, I’ve designed hundreds of websites, print campaigns, billboards, social media, everything. I’ve even built websites too. Yes. I learned how to code! I gained steam quickly. I did the work. I knew what I was doing. And, in my office, I was filled with confidence. I wore the hat at my office; I was genuinely confident in our abilities and skills as a firm. But, even in that confidence, when the time came to present my work to the client, to defend my work, to embrace my work, to wear the hat, it was an internal struggle.

In meetings, when a Marketing VP, Project Manager, CEO, CTO, or even a CFO would speak up, and question my design choices, my direction, my work, our work as a firm—even though I defended the designs, even though I justified the choices we made, even though I explained the designs and why it was the right choice for them—that little voice in my head was saying—Why did we make that choice? Why did we use that font? Why did we use that color? Did we consider the target audience? Did we consider the medium? Did we consider …? And the other little voice in my head was saying,

“YES! We did! I did! I did consider all that. I did the research. I did the work.”

But, on the drive home from the meeting, I ripped that hat off. I wanted to throw it out the window. I would find myself saying, “Who am I kidding?” “I shouldn’t be doing this.” “I’m not a designer.” “I don’t belong here.”

I thought I was the only designer who felt this way. The only one who questioned their skills, their talents, their abilities. But, as the years went by, and I submitted my work for awards, and won them, I became more and more comfortable with wearing the hat. I have to admit I questioned the validity of the award grantors. I checked their credentials. I questioned if I deserved that award. I said to myself, well the competition must not have been that great. I did begin attending the occasional AIGA local chapter meetings. I started wearing the hat.

Even though I wore the hat, I was still susceptible to random opinions about my work. About my company’s work. Sometimes, I would listen to a friend, or neighbor or a client’s daughter’s feedback, even the delivery guy. None of who were part of the target audience. The inner dialogue started again. Why do you listen to random people? Your work is great. But it was difficult for me to stay the course.

Method Writing, my golden ticket

Then I joined the method writing collective. I’ve always written. I’ve written journal after journal since I was about ten years old. I’ve always joked that one day I will finish my book. My book.

In my design firm, writing content had become more enjoyable to me than the design. I found myself gravitating more and more toward writing. Through the years, and a lot of self-reflection, I realized that writing is where I felt at home. I knew I would have to face it at one point and wear that hat! This was no easy feat, and still is not! Joining the writing group took me a little more than a year of inner turmoil, inner discussions, and inner convincing. I knew I would have to write every week. I knew I would have to STAND UP and READ what I wrote in front of everyone, real writers. I knew I would have to WEAR THE HAT—at least in the class. Like I said, I’ve written a lot, but I’ve never read it aloud, let alone to a room of REAL WRITERS. I wasn’t going to fool anyone this time. I couldn’t talk my way out of this. I waited until I couldn’t wait anymore. It was my New Year’s resolution for 2014. It was time to try.

I’ve been part of the writing collective for a year now. For me, it’s been a commitment to write, but also a commitment to be vulnerable, to be bad, to be good, to be great. (That’s a hard one to say.) And I never thought I would love being part of a group, but I love it. I don’t ever want it to end. I’m addicted to the encouragement. I’m addicted to the community. I’m addicted to people’s stories of heartbreak, love, loss, life. I’m addicted.

In the last class of this year, when Jack said those words, it was like a light bulb went off. As those words were leaving his mouth. As he was saying those words over and over. As he reminded us all that we ARE writers—that we are GOOD WRITERS, and it’s time to WEAR THE HAT. I realized, even after having people tell me I should wear the hat, I questioned their motivations, their honesty, their knowledge. Are they someone who would know I should wear that hat? But, in this case, he was someone that would know if I should wear the hat.

After that, I had an epiphany. I realized it was no longer the time to kind of wear it. It was time to place it on my head, and keep it on. It was time to wear the hat—confidently, boldly, worthily, no matter what the career I was in, or the work I was doing.

Then Jack presented a thoughtful question, “What’s going to happen if you wear the hat?”

I thought about that. I thought about if I wore the hat and failed how devastating that would be. I mean we all have dreams, right? If I give it my all and fail, then what do I do? What do I have to fall back on? All those people, the ones I wore the hat in front of, they would laugh. They would joke. They would call me a fraud, if not to my face, certainly behind my back. The alternative? Well, if I just kind of wore the hat, you know, put it on some days, took it off other days, read a few lines here and there to people, but never completely put myself out there, no harm no foul, right? And maybe, just maybe, by either dumb luck or chance or both, somehow, something might fall into my lap. OR what if I secretly wore that hat, you know, by myself, and waited until I was READY? I told myself, once I was READY, I would proudly wear the hat. I have to admit that’s what I had been doing. And I looked around the room, and I realized I wasn’t alone. They all had fears that kept them from wearing the hat too.

I realized at that moment, that I wanted to go out and design a hat. And, I thought to myself, I can do that because I’m a designer. I wanted to design a hat that read “I’m wearing the hat.” I wanted to start a movement. I wanted to get up on a soapbox and yell “WEAR THE HAT” people.

WEAR THE HAT!

I wanted to scream it loud enough for the universe to echo it all over the world. Imagine what each and every one of us could accomplish if we just wore the hat. Sure we would make mistakes. Sure we would falter. Sure there would be setbacks. AND yes we would fail. But, if we kept wearing the hat, if we knew we were worthy of that hat, then we would get back up and keep getting back up. Pull the hat on tighter, straighten it out and move forward. Think about that for a minute.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a writer and I’m going to “Wear the WRITING Hat” from now on. Are you ready to “Wear Your Hat?” I’m also going to wear the designer hat because I am a designer.

Remember, if you’ve made a choice to be a writer, an artist, an actor, a photographer, a designer, a life coach, a chef, no matter what the choice—when you make that choice—embrace it, live it, OWN IT—with no hesitation, with no excuses, with NO EXPLANATION. Realize that you belong where you are. Realize that you don’t need recognition, rewards, or reassurance. Realize that you don’t need anyone to validate your worth. When you believe in yourself, when you do the work, when you decide to commit to that one thing or maybe two things, commit. Get up on your soapbox and say, “I am a … and I’m wearing the hat!”

AND when people compliment you, say “Thank You” and SMILE. You are worthy. You are there. You made it. The only person you need to convince is yourself and that little voice inside your head. It doesn’t matter what random people say. Put your HAT ON and keep doing what you are doing. Know that every experience won’t always be positive. Know that there will be setbacks. Know that the world isn’t going to open the doors wide and step aside for you. Yes, you will want to rip off your hat sometimes but stick with it, learn from it, move on, AND don’t be so hard on yourself. Just WEAR THE FRICKIN’ HAT!!!

Disclaimer: Wearing the hat does not mean bragging and yelling “look at my hat.” Or going on about how you have the best hat and how everyone else’s hat pales in comparison. There is room in this world for all types of hats and as empathic humans it’s our duty to embrace the differences and not tear them down. Be happy for your fellow human. Support them. Help them wear their hat too.

Thank you Jack Grapes for your words of wisdom and ever-poetic nature and your transforming Method Writing.