All the awkward firsts…

My first website.

My very first website was a free WordPress template. I installed it myself. Then I stayed up all night — and I mean literally all night, until the sun came up — watching tutorials about how to use WordPress, and how to do html code, and I taught myself the basics.

(By “the basics” I mean, “just enough to sort of, kind of, barely put a website together in an excruciatingly slow manner.”)

The template came pre-loaded with some text that was in Japanese. I couldn’t figure out how to change it to English, so I just left it… in Japanese. I have no idea what it said. I hope it was something pleasant.

I figured I needed a “professional headshot” for my website, but I couldn’t afford to hire a photographer. So I took a photo of myself with my flip-phone (remember flip-phones?). I was sitting in my car in the parking lot outside of the SuperTarget in West Saint Paul, Minnesota. I was wearing sunglasses, as I recall, which I thought looked really hip and cool.

My website has evolved a lot since then, but that was how it started. Very humbly. Very awkwardly. With no budget, long nights, bleary eyes, too much coffee, determination, and a flip-phone pic.

My first workshop.

My very first workshop took place at a local community center. It was free because I was terrified to charge money… because what if people hated it? What if they scowled and harrumphed at me? If they did, surely I would die of shame!

I provided free coffee, free donuts, and 2 hours of free advice on how to write more effectively. I reviewed people’s résumés, cover letters, any materials they brought along, and gave the best feedback I could. I think people liked it. I honestly have no idea, because I was so anxious the entire time that I could barely breathe or swallow.

Since then, I’ve done speaking gigs, retreats, and workshops in 3 countries and 18 cities for audiences of 6 – 400 people. My confidence has deepened, year by year. Today, I love public speaking. It’s a joy for me to do. But it all started in a tiny room with no windows, a projector that didn’t work, a box of free donuts, and 2 hours of dry-mouthed fear.

My first blog post.

My first blog post was a recipe for apple bran muffins. Yes, really. It wasn’t even my own recipe. It was somebody else’s. I thought it was tasty and I wanted to share it.

That’s what I did for the first couple years that I had a blog. I’d share other people’s stuff, link to other people’s stuff, make lists of things that I liked that other people had created.

It took several years before I realized that I wanted to create my own art, too — my own stories, my own articles, my own books, my own voice — not just re-post other people’s work. (Oh, and that very first blog post? I deleted it a long time ago. Bye bye, muffins.)

All the awkward firsts.

Over the last decade, there have been so many awkward, stumbling, clumsy first steps.

The first time I got hired to do a freelance writing project. The first time I did a pre-recorded radio interview, and my voice got so high, nervous, and squeaky, and the producer stopped and asked me to take a few deep breaths (oh God, the humiliation). The first poem I shared publicly. The first 5-star Amazon review. The first 1-star Amazon review. The first piece of hate mail. The first novel. The first online course that I taught…

That first step is terrifying. It’s always terrifying. But I’m so grateful for each one that I convinced (sometimes forced) myself to take. Because we don’t achieve anything, or create anything, unless we’re willing to march forward. First step. Second step. Right foot. Left foot. Onward we go.

Please remember that every person you love and admire — every author, every artist, every business owner, every luminary who seems to “have it all together” — just remember that their story is filled with hundreds of awkward firsts, too.

Please don’t compare your first step to somebody else’s thousandth step. You’re not them. They’re not you. Your paths will never be identical. All that matters is that both of you keep marching forward.

The only way forward… is forward.

One awkward step at a time.