Why I am afraid to write

4 minute read

Note from author: This post was transferred from my Medium page on April 19th, 2020. All future blog posts will be posted on my GitHub page.

At the start of writing this, I have 16 blog entries in my personal Google Drive folder and another 31 in my University account — all of which I planned to share. However, when it came time to post them on my Medium page, I froze. I would close the tab, move to another project as an excuse until another idea inspired me to write only to repeat the cycle. Originally, I was planning to write about how my insecurities are distracting me from pursuing Ph.D. applications, but I knew that blog would share the same fate as the ones before it: never materializing on my Medium account.

If I’m being radically honest, I am reluctant to publicize my writing because I care a significant amount about how I am perceived — particularly when it comes to my intelligence and promise as a researcher-in-the-making; It’s important to me that people trust in my ability to conduct scientific research and that my communication skills (written or oral) parallel my technical ones. This anxiety has affected me from blogging monthly as an I’m First! Scholar and on my personal account.

My first concern with posting openly and regularly is that I’ll go over my “failure allowance”: outwardly making too many mistakes than socially acceptable. A few mistakes at a time are negligible, but the more failures I accumulate and are perceived, the more this calls into question my abilities as a writer/academic/person. This manifests in my obsession with perfecting my writing: the more I feel my post diverges from perfection — if my arguments seem incomplete, or if I feel a section was not articulated optimally, or if the idea is simply boring — then the more hesitant I am to share it on a public forum. Interestingly, in undergrad, I published an article about destigmatizing failure and ironically titled that entry “Why you should fail.” At the time, I wrote that piece in the hopes that it would make me more comfortable committing failures — and it has! — but since then, I’ve realized that most of my failures are during the process, not the final product.

For example, earlier this year I started taking courses on DataCamp to learn R and occasionally make mistakes on some assignments (i.e., the code won’t work). When I wrote my first script to analyze my personal finances, there were lots of bugs — and we continued to find more bugs each time I ran my code — but these “failures” did not bother me at all. However, these were also setbacks that (a) I was capable of rebounding from relatively quickly, and (b) no one knows about. Now, when I had to submit my first data report using R, I was petrified at the idea of an error emerging after submitting it; I was afraid that if a mistake was discovered after-the-fact, I would never be allowed to submit a data report again (even if I could fix it quickly), and if anyone asked my manager their thoughts on my skills as a data scientist, they would say some iteration of “He is okay but he messed up this ONE TIME!”

This leads me to a second fear that emerges: making mistakes I can’t recover from. In the aforementioned example, the consequence of my failure could result in never being assigned an ambitious data project (which would prohibit me from advancing as a data scientist) or result in missing a promotion or getting fired and not being able to swiftly secure a new position at a different organization. With regards to these blogs, I worry that publicly releasing a poorly-written blog will result in perpetual skepticism over anything I author in the future — whether it is something on my personal blog page, an op-ed I submit to the New York Times, or a research paper I aim to publish.

I know it’s ridiculous of me to internalize these anxieties — but I do. All the time.

Nevertheless, moving forward, I want to publicly commit to the following:

  1. Publish at least once a month. I love writing and being transparent about my ideas or opinions and I don’t want fear getting in the way of that. I don’t want people’s opinions or pressure of graduate school admission to get in the way of that genuine love. Sharing is not to seek validation but to foster dialogue, because I’m not posting absolute truth but rather expressing my ideas or perspectives with the information I have at that time.
  2. Embracing criticism. Not all of my blogs will be Pulitzer-winning entries, and honestly, some of them will call into question various aspects of my character. However, I hope to practice seeking feedback and recognizing constructive criticism as a gift rather than as an evaluation of my humanity.
  3. Sharing the posts I am most proud of. I don’t want to get in the habit of posting every single thing, but I do want to acknowledge the ones I feel are most meaningful to me in my attempts to feel more comfortable with people reading my work. Eventually, I am going to want to publish a study and even then I can imagine how afraid I’ll be submitting to a journal. Prior to that, I hope to be able to post on Facebook or some form of social media the ones that mattered the most to me. Maybe, if I’m courageous enough, even submitting to major publishers like the New York Times.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, as I anticipate it will be refined with time. Additionally, I don’t think that my erroneous fears will be ameliorated any time soon and I may even struggle to commit to the aforementioned promises — but it’s a step in the right direction.


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