“It took me a long time not to judge myself through someone else's eyes.” – Sally Field
I read comic books.
My friends have known this for the last 40 years, but it’s not something I usually share in public. My Goodreads
list includes novels, but the majority of books I read are about management, history, science and philosophy. I’m a 54-year-old businessman running a consulting company. As a writer and a consultant, I want people to take me seriously. And serious people don’t read comic books.
Actually, they do. I was recently reminded of my own misgivings and their impact on my life.
Last weekend was the Boston Book Festival
. In addition to exhibits of authors, bookstores and publishers, the festival had informational sessions on different genres. The panels are a blend of national and local celebrities, as well as famous and not-so-famous authors. It’s a great opportunity to gain insight to the writers’ approach towards their craft.
The unexpected highlight of the day was a session entitled “BFF Unbound: Not Your Grandma’s Romance”. Filmmaker Laurie Kahn moderated a panel of 4 authors, who shared how they began writing romance novels, the different subgenres in the romance category, and their interactions with readers. I couldn’t believe I’d left my normally ever-present notebook at home.
A common theme was the reluctance of the authors to embrace romance novels – either as a reader or a writer. Several had Master's degrees, one had been an English professor and one was a computer systems professional. They were serious, well-educated people. And romance novels weren’t for serious people.
Actually, they are.
The writers had to get over their own preconceptions of what romance novels were, and who would be their readers. They discovered that romance fiction contained universal themes of the human condition, which could be expressed in many different settings. Their audience were people who read multiple books a week, if not a book a day. Writing romance would be as authentic as any other genre.
Choosing this course of action meant risking being judged by certain segments of society, including their close friends. However, it also meant joining a supportive community of millions of readers who embrace their choices and don’t worry about what other people think. An added bonus – being financially successful in the multi-billion dollar romance novel market.
Too often, we let the judgments of others interfere with embracing who we are – and who we can become. In many ways, social media has intensified these feelings, with people posting disparaging comments about types of films, music or books. Or perhaps putting down others because of what they prefer to eat – or not eat. It can even devolve to insulting other runners because of the distances they choose or the finishing times of their races.
While perhaps meant in jest, these posts can cause embarrassment for their unintended targets. We all have some level of insecurity, and the wrong phrase can magnify our self-doubt. We’re driven further into silence. And farther away from our joy.
There’s little we can do to change the actions of others. But we can change ourselves. First - before posting that next negative comment – pause and reconsider. If the post doesn’t serve any positive usefulness, why bother? Is it worth making yourself feel good – at the expense of someone else?
More importantly, be proud of who you are – including all of your idiosyncrasies and passions. Stop being concerned about what “everyone” thinks. As long as your joy doesn’t bring someone else pain, then it’s good. Read comic books, watch silly television shows, go for runs before sunrise, or do whatever it is that makes you happy. Look inward, not outward, for approval.
Consider sharing your enthusiasms with the world. Maybe post about a musician you recently discovered, a walk that brought you peace, or an event that made you smile. Your words may help you learn that there are many other people who share your opinion. Or maybe you get to introduce someone to a delight that they’ve yet to discover.
It’s worth the risk.