The fear of not being exceptional
Ashtar Deza
by Ashtar Deza
3 min read


  • Blog


  • Personal Growth

So, another entry in our long-running series “Things that scare Ash”. I’ll probably be writing a bunch more of them, feel free to skip.

I used to write fiction a lot as a kid. I wrote short absurd stories that poked fun at the teachers at my school and parodied popular fiction. I had a regular slot in the school newspaper that my stuff would be published in and it actually gained me some popularity in school back then.

When I got older I tried my hand at writing “serious” fiction, and completely failed at it. I’d start this huge epos and then invariably fail to get anywhere. I pretty much gave up on writing altogether apart from the very occasional blog-post.

Cue Fetlife: I slowly started posting more writings and I got some very encouraging responses. This lead me to write more again, and at one point I had a bit of an epiphany: it was OK to not write full-length novels. I could just write short stories, little quickies that captured a certain feeling I wanted to convey.

This helped a lot and by now I’ve written a handful of them. They’re not all equally good, but they usually get at least some positive response.

My partners have been encouraging me for a while now to try and publish them somewhere where a broader audience could see them. I had some conversations with friends, and slowly the idea started to appeal to me.

So, yesterday I did a little exercise for myself: I made an actual e-book. I used a website to generate a quick and dirty cover, and some other tools to make my stories into an actual book. It was only about 20 pages long, but enough to get a feel for it.

Two things happened then: first of all, I got a very very strong sense of I want this. It felt so, so, right. So that was amazing. But then deep anxiety hit. The existential dread kind, and it seemed undirected. I was worrying about a ton of unrelated things, and only this morning in the shower it hit me what was really going on.

I wasn’t afraid of people thinking my work was crap. I know it’s definitely not everybody’s cup of tea. I also wasn’t afraid of being criticised. I was afraid of silence. Of being ignored. Of nobody thinking my work mattered enough to even engage with it.

I realised that I’m generally OK with not being good at something, as long as I’m not actually trying very hard. The moment I choose to actually commit to something, nothing less than being exceptional is enough. I can’t be mediocre, I can’t be just OK, I have to stand out. It’s not about being the best, I don’t need to compete with other people. But I do need to be noticed. I need to be seen.

By now anybody with a psychology background has probably pulled out their notepad and been writing notes about the various types of trauma that underlie this. I’m aware that this is a pretty unhealthy need for me to have. Wanting to be seen is good and healthy, but having this deep need to be exceptional is pretty much a guarantee for burning yourself out.

So, another fucking opportunity for fucking personal growth. I’m going to try and face this one. I’ll attempt to put myself out there and allow for the crickets. To not be crushed by the sound of silence if it does happen, because holding yourself back and only trying for things when you know you’ll excel at them is denying yourself a ton of experiences.

But boy… This one runs deep. So, wish me luck.

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