Extreme Esteem: Ode to an editor

“My life needs editing.” – Mort Sahl, Canadian-born American comedian and actor

“I always thought you were a good writer.”

“Thanks,” I replied, “but I’ll tell you a little story.”

My buddy leaned forward a little on his elbows.

“Years ago, I had an editor, whom I respected greatly, tell me I was a good writer.”

“There you go,” responded my friend, picking up his coffee cup. “Proof positive.”

“Ah, but,” I cautioned, “being called a good writer is isn’t necessarily a compliment.”

As pointed out by my editor, the world is filled with good writers. They are, essentially, a dime a dozen. The goal should be to become a great writer. Admittedly, I’m not yet a great writer, but I am striving to become better with each word and every paragraph I write.

To improve at anything, we must work hard (and smart) and hold ourselves accountable. Some of us can do that, some can’t. A good editor will always hold his or her charge accountable. A good writer, working hard to become great, would expect and demand nothing less.

Whether our goal is great writing or a great life, many of us trip over the same thing: our ego. Here, I’m referring to the ego as a self-important jumble of beliefs, misinterpretations, wants, needs, aches, and fears that falsely define how we see ourselves. I can still recall the time my fragile ego took a direct hit in the presence of a writer with far greater skill than me.

After enjoying moderate success with my writing, I had the good fortune of meeting a successful and highly regarded editor. I felt somewhat – perhaps overly – confident in my ability to put words comprehensively on paper so eagerly offered up some samples of my writing. When the editor came back with suggestions, my first thought was to reject them outright or challenge each assertion. After all, to accept the critique would require acknowledgement that I didn’t know as much as I thought. My delicate ego-self was not up to the scrutiny.

When it comes to your life, is your ego up to the scrutiny? Are you willing to admit that you might now know as much as you thought? That’s a big step for most people. Is so, then you might want consider engaging the services of another type of editor – a life coach.

Many dedicated people have chosen life coach as a career path and taken the extensive training and study needed to do the job well. These individuals – these “life editors” – can help you with new tools and techniques for successful living. If it’s too big of a stretch to go straight to a life coach, consider approaching someone in your community whom you admire – someone who actively demonstrates the qualities you admire and would like to possess.

Just as a professional editor will look first for glaring mistakes in your work, a life coach will help you to unearth problem areas and actions that have damaged your life, your relationships and self-esteem. Examples could be setting healthy boundaries, managing expectations, effective communication – anything that stands in the way of successful living.

I think the words of American author and editor Tobias Wolff apply equally well to writing and self-esteem. “I try to help people become the best possible editors of their own work to help them become conscious of the things they do well, of the things they need to look at again, of the wells of material they have not even begun to dip their buckets into.”

And of course, there will always be those who prefer the current version of themselves. We must each choose our own path and decide whether to edit or accept the first draft.

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