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The Wisdom in Being Scrappy

No one has ever accused me of having a good poker face. You can read my face like a large print book. This is especially true when I am making calls in the privacy of my home office. While I may maintain a confident tone in my voice, you can bet that I am making a series of exaggerated expressions throughout the call. I say something that feels a bit risky, and my eyes go big. I ask a question, and then grimace, wondering what the other person will say in response.

If you could have been a fly on the wall for this phone call, you would have seen a flash of nerves and excitement dancing over my face.

A few deep breaths. Dial tone ringing. “Hello. My name is Allie. I’m a local (slight pause) author, (eyebrows raise) and I am working on self-publishing a book (make nervous grimace). I am reaching out to local print shops to get quotes on what the cost would be to print my book with you?” (bite lip and wrinkle nose while waiting.)

Saying words like “author” and “self-publishing” brings a flurry of Impostor Syndrome thoughts. I don’t know what I’m doing. Sure, I’ve been writing for years, but probably only like 7.5 people read what I write. It’s all fine and comfortable to publish my writing from the comfort zone of my own blog. But actually printing it and selling it? What am I doing?

I’ve put off the dream to write and publish a book for a while now. I told myself I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know how to navigate the world of publishing. I didn’t want to have to figure out sales tax. I was convinced no one would want to read what I had to say.

When I’d say these thoughts out loud, I knew they were flimsy excuses, protecting me from the fear of failure and the unknown. And at some point, a few months ago, the fire in my belly to write something and put it out there grew bigger than the wet blanket of my inhibitions. I didn’t know all the steps, or how it would all turn out, but I knew I could sit down and write. I could Google “How to self-publish” and spend a few hours looking into what others have done. I could make some phone calls and figure out the cost of printing.

And most importantly, I could be brave enough to put my book out there, even knowing that it was still a work in progress. I knew it was time to take the leap—but since I couldn’t wait around for Perfection or Having All the Answers, I’d have to be scrappy about it.

According to Terri Sjodin, author of Scrappy, people with a scrappy mindset “view the obstacles in their path with curiosity and confidence rather than fear and defeat. A scrapper exhibits an active imagination, a penchant for risk-taking, stubbornness, and a sense of appreciation, gratitude, and mindfulness.”

I can remember being naturally scrappy as a little girl. I’d make worlds out of the scraps in my backyard. I’d put on plays, swathed in the lacy fabric of our dress-up clothes. I’d push past the butterflies in my stomach to jump off the high dive or sing in the choir. I let my curiosity take the lead.

I think some of those scrappy edges got worn down from the self-conscious insecurity of my adolescence. It felt too risky to try things unless I knew I’d be good at them. My inner scrappiness started to shrink as the boundaries of my comfort zone thickened.

Scrappy Allie wasn’t a main character in my life for a while, but she never went away. She kept whispering hints when something looked fun and just out of reach.

With hindsight wisdom, I can see certain moments where I was especially scrappy as being turning points of growth and joy.

While at first glance being scrappy can look unpolished and amateur, there is a humble wisdom in taking a feisty approach to pursuing goals. Scrappiness claims that perfection is overrated, and that lack of resources, experience, or ideal conditions isn’t a valid reason to postpone pursuing our dreams. Scrappiness reminds us that joy is in the doing, the trying, the process of becoming—not in the final result, or how many people approve of it, whatever “it” may be. Scrappiness whispers that you don’t have to have it All Figured Out, nor do you have to do it all today, but if you take that first step out of your comfort zone, you’ll learn what you need for the next step.

There is an anecdote in Elizabeth Gilbert’s north-star of a book Big Magic, that I’ve been thinking about a lot, especially after putting my little scrappy book out into the world. She tells of an aspiring painter who was studying in France. He happened to meet some aristocrats who invited him to this fancy costume party at a castle in the Loire Valley. Encouraged by his new friends to “go all out” for his costume, he worked all week on an elaborative and creative costume of which he was immensely proud.

On the night of the party, he rented a car and drove the three hours to the address his new friends had given him. Donning pink tights, a chicken wire, and a paper maché costume with big red foam claws, he ascended the castle stairs. As he looked past the foyer, he realized with sinking dread that he had lost some important details about this party in translation. This was not the costume party he was used to. This young artist showed up to a medieval masquerade ball in a homemade lobster costume.

After a frozen moment of terror, this young man had a choice. He could tuck his foam lobster claws and scurry away in shame. Or he could muster up his resolve and walk into the room with his head held high. When asked what on earth he was, he said with dignity and a shy smile “I am the court lobster.”

Rather than ridicule, they loved him—not in spite of, but because of his scrappy creativity and his bold decision to show up with what he had.

What if being scrappy isn’t a pitiful circumstance when we don’t feel like we have everything we need or some shameful thing that we are alone in? What if we saw scrappiness as a beautiful and necessary part of showing up and being brave in our lives?

As Elizabeth reflects, “I have never created anything in my life that did not make me feel, at some point or another, like I was the guy who just walked into a fancy ball wearing a homemade lobster costume. But you must stubbornly walk into that room, regardless, and you must hold your head high. You made it; you get to put it out there. Never apologize for it, never explain it away, never be ashamed of it. You did the best with what you knew, and you worked with what you had, in the time that you were given.”

She’s talking here about creating things and putting them out into the world, but this metaphor certainly extends to the creative act of living a brave and full life.

I share this story with you, dear reader because I think 2022 has found us all feeling a bit ragged and worn down. We’ve all been grappling with grief and unknowns for so long. And yet, life continues on. The invitation to enter in remains–we may just have to be a little bit scrappy to make it work.

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