(Also, my entry into The Freelance Writers Den contest)
It was the summer of 1996 and the Olympic games were being held in Atlanta, Georgia. I sat in the den of my North Carolina home with my mom and brother as we watched the U.S. women’s gymnastics team battle the Russians for the team gold medal. My family and I, along with the rest of America, sat with eyes glued to the television as the U.S. team faced its last apparatus—the vault—and Kerri Strug was the final gymnast to take her turn. Minutes before, Dominique Moceanu had taken two falls, leaving securing the gold up to Strug. We watched nervously as Strug took her first attempt. She fell on the landing, hurting her ankle so badly that she could barely walk. Yet, her team seemingly needed her to do the second vault to secure the gold. What would she do?
As if on cue, my dad walked through the front door, home from work, and the sound of his shoes hitting the hardwood floors as he walked down the hallway cut into the moment’s intensity. Oh, and did I mention that the gymnastics competition was being broadcast on a tape delay? Without warning, and before we realized what was happening, my dad entered the room and said,
“You all know the women’s gymnastics team won the gold medal, right?”
My brother and I fell to the floor with hands raised to the heavens. “NOOOOOO!!!!!!” we screamed. Seconds before Strug took her second vault, my dad had committed the worst spoiler imaginable.
Watching Strug take the second vault, stick the landing, and help the U.S. team secure the gold medal was still exhilarating, and I think about that moment during every Olympics…or any time I want to remind my dad of how he ruined one of the most incredible sports moments of all time. What stands out about that moment is its defining nature. Olympic athletes prepare themselves for make-or-break moments—opportunities that test not just their skill, but ultimately their courage and belief in themselves.
I was recently surprised when I learned that Strug didn’t actually need to take the second vault, and risk immutable damage to her ankle, in order for the U.S. team to win the gold medal. According to a NY Daily News article from 1996, the mathematical chance that the Russians could have caught up to the U.S. team after Strug’s first vault was so minor that she could have sat the second one out. Of course, Strug didn’t know that at the time. She told Jane Leavy, writing for Sports Illustrated in 1997, that she remembered asking the question, “Do we need this?” In that moment, to Strug, to her coach, to her team, the answer was yes.
I’m sure it was more than unsettling for Strug to later learn that, realistically, she hadn’t needed to take the second vault. But, if I may project a little, in asking Do we need this, maybe Strug was really asking Do I need this? Up until that point, Strug wasn’t a gymnastics star. Leavy describes her as having been “overshadowed” by her peers. Perhaps, Strug needed to prove that she had what it took to block out her pain, hurl herself into the air, and come out on the other side with feet fully planted on the ground.
Of course, I don’t know what Strug was thinking. But I do know what I was thinking on the day that I decided to quit my perfectly comfortable job to work as a freelance writer: Am I really going to do this? I wasn’t up for a gold medal, but the phone sitting in front of me was as daunting as a vault. My running start was dialing my boss’s number, and to land fully on my feet, I had to get the two words “I’m leaving” out of my mouth without throwing up. It was a make-or-break moment, and though I didn’t have to do it, I needed to.
As much as I struggled with splitting my time and mental energy between full-time work and a part-time passion, I could have resolved to do it for a bit longer. However, the reality remained that when I decided to go out on my own, it was going to test my courage and faith in a way I had never experienced.
Sometimes in life, you have to block out the fear and hurl yourself into the air just to prove you have what it takes to land, fully grounded, on the other side.
I describe more fully my need to walk away from my job in my recent essay “A Sounding Call.” But now that I’ve gone and done it, I realize that there are some other things that I need. Specifically, I need mentors and a network of colleagues who know more about the freelance world than I do, which is why I’m writing this essay and entering The Freelance Writers Den contest. Winning this contest would be a tremendous boon to my start as a freelance writer because, in essence:
I need a coach.
Currently, most of my writing coaches are related to me. I often show my writing to family or close friends to get their opinion, which is always positive. While that’s great for my ego, I know I have a great deal of room to grow and refine my writing. Thus, I need to find writing mentors and coaches that can give me unbiased opinions of how to become stronger. For this reason, I am particularly excited about the one-on-one coaching sessions offered through The Freelance Writers Den contest, as well as the opportunity to network with writers with whom I can build relationships and workshop pieces over time.
I also need a playbook.
My goals are to work as a freelance magazine writer and publish literary essays. Aside from a year of creative writing in high school and typical English classes, I’ve never formally studied writing. I didn’t go to journalism school or take creative writing courses in college. While I am confident in my talent, the training offered through this contest, such as the 4-Week Journalism School Audit and the Writing for Magazines e-course, would help me build a playbook of rules to follow…or knowingly break.
Lastly, I need a team.
Although writers tend to act in solitude, I know I won’t go very far alone. I need teammates—a network of working writers who know the rules of the game. I already regularly consult The Renegade Writer and Make a Living Writing for tips and pointers. Having a year’s membership in The Freelance Writers Den and being able to communicate directly with writers about some of the things that I’ve learned would be an invaluable resource.
Throughout my life, I’ve always touted writing as a skill. However, not owning my identity as a writer held me back from believing I could pursue it full-time. Now, I view writing as more than a skill; I consider it be an indelible part of who I am. Writing is how I see the world, how I answer questions, how I understand. I also view writing as my main platform for giving back to the world—by telling stories that inspire others to believe in their own dreams, potential, and ability to fly over life’s vaults and stick the landing.
This essay is my official entry to win a year’s membership into The Freelance Writers Den and other great prizes sponsored by Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing and Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer. If you like this post, it would be nifty if you’d click one of those share buttons (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) down below. It just might help me win!