Oct 5, 2013

Posted by in The Creative Process | 328 Comments

In over my head…

… and the water’s fine.

That tape that runs in your head: “You better be careful. You don’t want to get in over your head.”

A discouraging word from a well-meaning adviser: “Ooh, that’s very brave of you – are you sure you won’t be in over your head?”

Naysayers snarking from the peanut gallery: “He’s in way over his head. This is NOT going to end well.”


Do these counselors understand how water works? That is what “in over your head” is in reference to, yes?

Here’s the thing about water, how it functions with humans or other living things moving around in it: Swimming works better when there’s more water than there is swimmer. Ever try swimming in the shallow end, where the water is not over your head? Very difficult. At best, clumsy. Worse, you could be at risk of crashing your head into the bottom of the pool.

Sticking close to the shoreline makes for fun wading, but ugly swimming. You have to get out past the waves so you can bob around a bit.

Of course, all of this assumes the ability to swim, float, and tread water. Basic skills are necessary. But, simply put (and without metaphor), in the real world, when you want to grow in a particular area, you have to try stuff that feels risky, that pushes you past your place of comfort. Experience has to begin somewhere. Every expert at one time was a newbie, at one time took that first floppy fish dive out into deeper waters.

So you have this thing that drives you, keeps you restless and exploring and giving from the raggedy remains of your day. Whatever it is, this relentless ever present yet just-out-there force that keeps you at it: you’re not doing it for that tape, the consultants, the snarks. Are you?

The secret about those voices urging you to keep in the shallows – including the one in your own head – is that they are simply speaking into their own fear to go out any further. But contrary to such fear-based advice, it can be riskier to try and look like you’re swimming with the big fish when you’re only flopping around at the shoreline with the minnows.

Turn off the tape in your head for once. Turn down the volume on those voices.

And go for a swim.

Bring a life jacket – goggles even – if necessary, but do get out there. There will be a fluffy beach towel waiting for you when you’re ready to take a break.


Kelly Belmonte is a published poet, blogger (http://allninemuses.wordpress.com), and management consultant with expertise in non-profit organizational development and youth mentoring. She currently serves on the board of directors for Exeter Fine Crafts in Exeter, New Hampshire. Her published book of poetry, Three Ways of Searching, is available through Finishing Line Press.

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  1. Love it! I’m usually am the one telling myself that I’m in over my head. Most of my friends and family know better. Now they just sit back and wait to see, “will she sink or swim”, and throw me the life preserver of encouragement when I need it.

  2. I love this! I have a feeling I’ll be repeating your opening phrase to myself over and over again…

  3. Again, thanks for your articulate encouragement here. I actually feel this way everyday. I’m not sure if I should write at all, (“Is this going anywhere for any real purpose?”), or what to write, (“Honestly, who cares what I think anyway?”). However, I can’t stop thinking about writing. And when I begin to bump right up next to starting-the intimdating Olympic sized Deep End stops me. Perhaps instead of feeling like each essay is a matter of life or death, I need to just find a friendlier community pool of lighter writing topics to swim in.

  4. Thanks all for connecting with my words. Bethany, I have had that “what’s the point and who cares what I think anyway” feeling you describe pretty frequently. I wrote about it awhile back here: http://allninemuses.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/pen-phobia-writing-through-the-fear/

  5. Loved this! The best thing about being in over my head on a regular basis is that I am assured that it is the Lord who delivers me! I am not afloat on my own merit.

    Once, when one of my daughters was tiny, she was rolled fully back onto the beach by a giant wave. Flipping, gasping, and sputtering, hair dripping in her face, she staggered to her feet and yelled, “Is that all you got?”. Stalking the ocean, she waded back in.

  6. Thanks! I needed that today. I often feel over my head. It also helped to hear the comment by Karise.

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