Why Not Us?

by Noelle Sterne

August 2014

Football, and especially last season’s crowning game, Super Bowl XLVIII, may be only a chilly memory as the summer baseball season swings forward. At Super Bowl, chain beers drowned football fans’ shock at the performance of the disappointing Denver Broncos and their star Man Peyton Manning. Fans’ whining about the boring score that kept the Seattle Seahawks piling on the points to 43 and the Broncos unbelievably paralyzed at 8 have faded into reruns of greater games. And my husband and our Super Bowl guests have finally recovered and almost lost the weight from stuffing too many veggie chips, flaxseed chili dogs, and low-fat tofutti sandwiches.

But one thing shines from that Super Bowl. It was a sentence, or rather a question, related by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who at 25 looks 17 and prompted one announcer to joke that Wilson may be the only NFL quarterback to get carded at bars.

In an interview, Wilson was asked what he had told his teammates that spurred them to such great defensive action. He said, “I told them a story my dad used to tell me. He always used to tell or tap me driving in the car and say, ‘Russ, why not you? Why can’t you be a world champion or whatever you want to be?’”. So, bringing this rhetorical wisdom to the clubhouse, Wilson asked his teammates early in the year, referring of course to even competing in the Super Bowl, much less winning, “Why not us?”

Since Wilson told this story, his words have been repeated and used many times by others, from preachers to motivational leaders to life coaches to fundraisers to tee shirt makers (complete with his number 2). Now it’s our turn as writers.

Why not us? Why not you?

As much as we may affirm, visualize, decree, and bellow what kind of success we want, this question gets beneath it all. Why not us?

When I finally dared raise the question to myself, I washed up against the wreckage of deservingness as a writer. And this revelation prompted me to ask us all: Do we really feel we deserve success, from publication anywhere to the yield of sustained income to fame and awards to a few blessed hours of writing daily? Are we really ready to accept success when it comes?

Or do we devalue and disparage it? Someone praises our work and, like turning away a compliment about our clothes, our reply is automatic:

“Oh, this new published piece is over a decade old. I just updated the references about tape cassettes and desk phones.”

“Oh, this adventure really didn’t happen. I just made it up.”

“Oh, my best friend the English major helped me a lot with this.”

“Oh, I only got a check for $___ for this.”

Are we ready to own our success? You know the differences between candid and grateful acknowledgment of our talents and either arrogance or overmodesty. You know when someone you’re talking to keeps you riveted (they think) with every last accolade they’ve received about every last piece they’ve published (and you almost miss your bus stop).Or, alternatively, they keep protesting their success, with variations of the self-depreciations above, in sham modesty that hides an inflated sense of self or fear of the other shoe dropping.

Why not you? Accept, admit, and declare your desires for success and its manifestations. Adopt an almost reasonable, dispassionate view of it. Remember too that those godlike beings—the bestselling, six-book-deal, prize-winning, optioned-for-film authors—are just like us. They face the dread bare page, agonize about the perceived inanity of their current work, and worry whether it will be as good as their last. Maybe they’ve put in more writing time than we have, but they feel the slump after the Oprah appearance, the collapsed joy after seeing their name in print, and the puzzling swift disappearance of that amazing advance.

And I bet they’ve asked themselves, more than once, some version of “Why not me?” I bet too they’ve come up with a fierce and fighting answer that’s spurred them on through the blocks, despair, and night-terrors. That answer trumpets and echoes through their very being, in whatever forms penetrate deepest: Because I deserve it.

Let us too cultivate this answer. Let us reply the question for ourselves with all solid deserving intensity, and, like the victorious Seahawks, believe our positive, predictive answer. Why not us?

Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne publishes widely in print and online. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle assists doctoral candidates in completing to complete their dissertations (finally). Her forthcoming handbook, to be published in 2015 by Rowman and Littlefield Eduction, addresses students’ largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles. In Noelle’s first book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she helps readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com.

Noelle SterneComment