I sometimes notice a dreamy glint in the eyes of others when I tell them that I’ve decided to pursue writing as my profession. “That’s awesome,” they’ll say with barely disguised envy. “I wish I could do that. You’re so lucky.”

The truth is that I am lucky. Writing is what I love; it inspires me; it invigorates me. It is a privilege to be able to pursue a vocation that brings me so much joy—even if it means forgoing a regular paycheck and living with less social interaction than I would like.

But for me, being a writer is also terrifying. And it is for that very reason that I believe God has called me into it. Like so many things in life, he is using this to both bless and transform me. In particular, he is challenging me to lay down three powerful idols that I have clung to for most of my life: people-pleasing, achievement, and perfectionism.

1) People-pleasing. For as long as I can remember, my self-worth has been fueled by the affirmation of others. I depended to such an extent on the praise of others that I felt lost without it.

And this how I know God has a sense of humor: with writing, as with every art form, it is impossible to attain commercial success without the approval of others. But I have found that when I write in order to please others, my writing stinks. Truly it does. I have to write the story God has given me, and I have to write it in my own voice, for it to be authentic and meaningful and not painful to read. I do not know whether what I write will be wildly popular or not—and that, God is telling me, is okay.

2) Achievement. Most days, I start the morning off with a laptop and a Word document. At the end of the day, I have a laptop and a Word document. Sometimes that Word document has a few thousand more words typed into it; other days it’s a few hundred or less. But that is all I have to show for my labors. I don’t have a program set up or a marketing campaign launched or a new employee hired. I haven’t, as far as I can see, made any visible impact on the world.

What I want to believe is that my day has been wasted, that what I have produced does not have any value. What God challenges me to believe is that my worth is not defined by what I do or how much I have achieved compared to the next person. He can use anything—even words on a screen—for his kingdom and his glory.

3) Perfectionism. In my previous career, I obsessed about doing everything perfectly. Every document I created, every presentation I gave, every project I oversaw—if something went wrong or wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be, I thought about it for days. I was not content with anything I did, choosing instead to embrace anxiety, fear, and sleepless nights.

Unfortunately for me, writing is not a task that is ever perfected. There is always a sentence to be reworded, a punctuation mark to be added, a sentiment more artfully expressed. I want to keep obsessing, to find every misplaced comma and to fix every poorly worded statement. But for my sanity and my ability to complete anything, I have to let it go. I have to embrace God’s message of grace for me: I am not perfect, my writing is not perfect, but I am still loved, and my writing, mistakes and all, can still be beautiful and impactful.

It can be a harrowing path, this writing life, for a reformed people-pleasing, achievement-oriented perfectionist like me. Even as I sit calmly at my desk, I sometimes feel like I am following God through the valley of the shadow of death. He is asking me to release what I have relied on in the past to make me a productive, likeable person—to put to death the idols that I thought kept me safe—and to find new life in him. It’s a life that is terrifying in how much I need to trust God rather than myself. But it’s also, I’m finding, a life of immense freedom. I am no longer burdened by the expectations or myself or others because I know that trying to meet those expectations all the time is an impossible task.

But God’s expectation of me to simply follow him and trust that he has something good for me on this writing journey? That I can do.

 

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is an award-winning writer and editor. She is a columnist for Inc.com and a regular contributor to Christianity Today, The Well, and Asian American Women on Leadership. Her writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, BlogHer, RELEVANT, MotivationGrid, the Unreasonable Institute blog, and dozens of other publications in the U.S. and Asia. Dorcas is a Silicon Valley native who has lived and worked in China, Hong Kong, and Kenya. Her book on how to survive marriage to an entrepreneur is forthcoming from Center Street (Hachette).

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