The Pressure to Be Something

I went to the same school as Stephen Colbert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I’ll pause to give you time to look up which school they went to. (If you are a follower of this blog, you already know which school.)

You’re back? Okay good. The first thing you’ll notice is that they are celebrities and I am not. Not everyone who went there is. But while I was an undergraduate, and even after graduating, I felt the pressure to live up to the prestige of the university. During my time there, when I chose to major in writing, many people gave me the stink eye. “Major in something useful,” I was advised over and over. (Code word: more prestigious, at least in their eyes.) “In that way, you can make a lot of money and be an alumna the school can be proud of.”


The pressure to be something.

(Though nowadays, the latter message comes through in the frequent invitations to donate to the alumni fund. The pressure to give something.)

Ever feel the pressure to be something others have decided is the definition of success?

As a writer, I definitely feel the pressure. My grad program has turned out graduates who have won major awards and who have sold many, many books. Even the organization of children’s writers and illustrators that I belong to routinely sends emails about those who have “made it,” while extending the invitation to “Send us your success stories.”

But what if you’re the writer of some books that went out of print within two years? Or you’ve racked up 89 rejections for a book?

The pressure to be something.

Ever feel like you didn’t measure up somehow? Maybe like me you even fell into the funnel of comparison recently, and felt yourself squeezed out of the small end.

Comparison—the bane of our existence

Thoughts like that swirled through my head as I drove to Wal-Mart the other day. Yeah, I know I shouldn’t let such thoughts hold sway. I’m trying to get my mind right and defeat negative thinking. But for some reason, I thought about the sister who had died the year before I was born. I found myself crying and wondering why she was stillborn, while I lived. Not that I’m ungrateful for life. But because I lived, was I really being all I could be? Was I living up to the potential teachers and others had told me I had over the years?

The pressure to be something. The pressure to make my life count because my sister was dead and I was alive.

But after prayer (because I was really getting worked up), I realized, Wait. I could silence that nagging voice in my head—the one that caused me to feel the pressure to measure myself against someone else’s ruler. I could silence the strive, strive, strive, you’re not doing it right, make things happen and just be.

Be . . .

Content in who I am—someone who persists past rejection and failure.

Joyful regardless.

I’m not Stephen Colbert. I like the guy. I really do. But I don’t have to be him or Julia Louis-Dreyfus to be somebody. I already am somebody. I might not do life like them. But I do what I do, because I like doing what I do, whether that fits someone else’s protocol or not.

Pressure dispelled.

As Nancy Hatch of Spirit Lights the Way would say, “Aah, that’s better.”

And now, I’ll leave you with a Lindsey Stirling video, suggested by a friend who went to Lindsey’s concert the other day. It’s for anyone who needs to get out of the pressure and into joy.

Marsha Mello likes being with the Unfinished Tiger. His chill approach to life—that all of us are works in progress—soothes her.

Stephen Colbert photo from Julia Louis-Dreyfus photo from Other photos by L. Marie. Marsha Mello and Donatina Shoppie dolls from Moose Toys.

A Post About . . . “Nothin’ ”

As I dashed off to church, mulling over what to post (besides the announcement of the winner of Tiger Tail Soup by Nicki Chen—that’ll come later in the post), the premise of Seinfeld came to mind. Remember that show? It was “a show about nothing” or more aptly, the “mundane aspects of everyday life.” (See Wikipedia.) And here’s something else you might find coincidental: Julia Louis-Dreyfus is on the cover of the latest issue of Northwestern University’s alumni magazine. If you’ve never seen Seinfeld, you might wonder what connection she has to it. Well, she was a costar. She has her own show nowadays—Veep.


I struggled with what to post, as I’ve done many times lately, because of thoughts plaguing me like, If I don’t yet have a published book to promote, a beautifully written poem like the ones Andy over at City Jackdaw produces, or a hilarious Punchy Lands report (ala Professor VJ Duke), or if I haven’t been on an exciting trip recently or a glorious walking tour like the ones Restless Jo posts so eloquently about, will anyone want to read what I write? But finally on that drive, I realized I’d fallen into a trap—the same trap I was in several years ago when I was about to turn down an invitation to participate in career day at an elementary school in Chicago. Why was I going to turn it down? Because I didn’t think I was “successful” enough to talk to the eighth graders. I wasn’t sure they’d want to hear that I had more writing failures than successes.

As I realized the mindset I’d fallen into—the belief that I had “nothing” to say—the thought of Seinfeld was a revelation. For a show that purported to be about “nothing,” it managed to remain on the air for almost a decade. And why not? It was really a show about life. There’s always something to say, if you’re still breathing.


Thinking about Seinfeld helped me realize my tendency to disparage my own life—to think that a “good” life (or at least one worth posting about) boiled down to what I produced that others might deem successful or to places I’ve visited that others might view as worthy of interest. (Um, instead of traveling to Italy, France, or Nairobi, I went to Joann Fabrics today and bought some eyes with safety catches for the kittens I’m crocheting. Yeah, I walk on the wild side.)

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Package of eyes with safety catches and a photo of a head with the eyes in place. Why are safety catches necessary? Each catch keeps the eye in place and prevents a small child who bites through the fabric from swallowing the eye.

Lately, I’ve been taking for granted the simple things in life—fodder for many an episode of Seinfeld. Like today (Sunday). The humidity we’ve experienced for weeks is finally gone. The sun is out, and the temperature for much of the day has been around 81 degrees Fahrenheit. How marvelous without humidity. To celebrate, I scarfed down a scrumptious hot fudge sundae from the dollar menu at McDonald’s. Maybe that’s not earth-shattering, front-page headline news. But it’s life—my life. And sometimes I need to be reminded that it’s worth celebrating. And so is yours.

Speaking of celebrating, I’m pleased to announce the winner of Tiger Tail Soup by Nicki Chen.

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That winner is




Lyn Miller-Lachmann!

Time to celebrate, Lyn! You know the drill. Comment below to confirm, and then email me your address.


Gratuitous lip balm photo. Yes, this is an egg-shaped container.