Last summer I finished writing my first novel, The Things We Tell Ourselves, and was sitting in a Santa Monica café talking about it with an artist friend who always has good advice to share. While we should have been celebrating with a drink, I was instead in a mild panic because this was my first piece of substantial fiction and since I am known more for my journalism and essays than literature, I worried about how it would be received. I expressed my concerns, which ranged from cover artwork to my dad reading the book's sex scenes, as she looked at me empathetically. Typically calm and collected, I felt myself experiencing a bout of anxiety while talking about something that should have been joyful.
Finally, my friend cut me off. "Can I give you a piece of advice?" she asked.
"Yes, please," I begged.
"You just have to be Beyoncé."
I was expecting her to say something about literary agents or social media strategy, but instead it was those six words, and they snapped me right out of my fog of worry. I knew exactly what she meant: I had to be bold, confident, and unapologetic. After all, a huge part of Beyoncé's allure is her boss status and undeniable power as a global influencer and entertainer. She woke up like this. It's the same reason that women are drawn to Serena Williams, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Of course even Beyoncé gets insecure at times, but the public persona we see on Instagram, in music videos, and on stage -- particularly since she entered her 30s -- is one that says IDGAF. It's Sasha Fierce 2.0 and we love her for it.
Later that night, inspired by my friend's advice, I decided that I was going to stop worrying about the book and what anyone would think (for the record, my dad survived reading it just fine). I reminded myself that I did not need anyone's approval or permission to accomplish this lifelong dream and that I had paid my dues, writing hundreds of articles over the last 15 years. And instead of diminishing the achievement or deflecting the conversation, as I was apt to do, I would embrace it. I did the second edit of the novel while obsessively listening to Beyoncé's surprise album for good measure.
In addition to taking the "be Beyoncé" statement to heart, which has been empowering, to say the least, I've also passed it on to younger women who ask me for career advice. I love seeing their eyes light up as they nod in recognition of what it means. For most women I know, it takes age and experience to really feel comfortable in their skin. I feel like I spent my twenties being exhaustingly nice to people, even when it meant sacrificing my own happiness. Career-wise, I was interested in success, but preferred being behind-the-scenes where I could prop others up, avoid any direct spotlight, and stay in my comfort zone. But as I've gotten older, particularly in the second half of my thirties, I'm much more comfortable speaking my mind, saying no, doing things that make me uncomfortable, and embracing my inner Queen B. I just needed a reminder.
Victoria Namkung's debut novel, The Things We Tell Ourselves, is available on July 21, 2015. Learn more at her website.
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