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The Tailored Output Blog


Filtering by Category: Courage

Writer's Block

Julie Slanker

My writer's block broke last week. 

I knew The Alchemist was a true story after reading just three (kindle) pages. The author, Paulo Coelho, explains his inspiration in the forward, “…I wanted to write about my soul. I wanted to write about my quest to find my treasure. I wanted to follow the omens, because I knew even then that the omens are the language of God.” 

I know that feeling. 

Stronger still, I know the opposite of that feeling. In just a few lines he cut to the heart of my own writing and (then) writers block. The cover photo on my first blog page reads, “Her mouth speaks from that which fills her heart." Luke 6:45. I write like a motherfucker when my heart is so overfull that it spills out of my fingertips and onto the page. When I have too much inside to process it all. When my soul is searching for answers… Or has found the answer but needs to educate my mind. 

I thought for a while that things were just too good. I had nothing more to say. I had named my fears. I had captured my worth. I had done the hard work that only can be done after years of fighting to survive. It had been 18 months. How much more could a heart have to say about that? 

I rely heavily on the image of a climb. Strenuous labor, sometimes danger, with an awe-inspiring reward at the top. Peace. Height. Perspective. Accomplishment. Proximity to the heavens. Throwing myself off a cliff in search of flight (I do that). Climbing back up to the top after landing hard (I do that, too). 

I took this picture. In Alaska. It was amazing. Everyone should go there!

I took this picture. In Alaska. It was amazing. Everyone should go there!


I have been at the high-point of a mid-sized peak in my professional life for quite a while. At the top of my game. Able to see the mountain range of higher peaks all around me. Unsure of which one to chose next. Meanwhile, I have been throwing my heart off successively higher cliffs, hoping for flight and never quite achieving it. Strengthening my legs with each new climb.

Now, after the last great near-flight-and-climb, my heart and soul and mind are for the first time together at the top of the same mountain, gazing out over the array of possibilities. Huddled together for warmth. Paralyzed. Terrified. Trying to convince themselves that everything will be OK. Making plans to take the next step. But also wondering if maybe (just maybe) they could magic a staircase or a rope-bridge and skip the descent required to get to the base of the next new mountain.

I was hiding my terror with my refusal to write it down. I see that now.

My block broke when I realized: I am The Alchemist’s Santiago fifteen minutes before he decides to sell his sheep. Dreaming about treasure. Drawn to the possibility of adventure. Worried about what will happen to his flock if he decides to leave. I knew from the beginning that The Alchemist was a true story, I just didn’t realize it would be my true story.

I highlighted a line from the description of Santiago’s struggle to decide. I can imagine that in another light, it could be taken as an accomplishment, but I found it to be sad: “In two years he had learned everything about shepherding…” He had struck out on his own path when he became a shepherd. And he was good at it. Born to do it some might even say. He struggled through the tough lessons, sure. But he had overcome them all. And there was nothing new to learn. 

That little line burned my soul.

I have said that I was born to do my job. I feel it! I am good at it. I have accomplished things in my short time that most people never achieve in an entire career. I am frequently praised (and just as frequently admonished) for punching well above my weight. I get it. And I get it done. And I could advance quickly. I could march up the ladder and take it all over and become the executive my mentors want me to be. And it will be hard. And it will come at a cost. And there will be days that I struggle to keep my head above water. But it won’t ever be anything new. It will be more volume. More responsibility. Marginally more skill. But nothing that shakes my core. Nothing that gut-checks me with fear-of-failure or requires me to have faith in parts of me that I have never exercised before. Nothing that lives up to the unconventional, put-all-my-eggs-in-one-basket, make-a-decision-and-jump-off-a-cliff girl I once was and now am again. 

But still, my work is important. If I don’t do it, it won’t be the same. My sheep need me!

How do I stop doing the thing I was born to do without feeling like I am betraying myself and my whole history? How do I overcome the sense that I could be throwing it all away? Santiago’s story helps there, too. First, in pursuit of his treasure, he continually relies on the lessons he learned as a shepherd. And, for that matter, he never would have been on his adventure in the first place if he hadn’t dreamed of treasure while asleep with his flock. He was fulfilling his Personal Legend even as a shepherd, even though he didn’t know it. It was all a single, connected path.

I like that. 

I would never have dreamed of my new mountain to climb if it wasn’t for my burning desire to be good at the job I was born to do, and if I never had thrown my heart off the cliff for a relationship that—in the end—wasn’t for me. And ever since the moment I realized where I need to go, and named it, things have been falling into place quite easily. But I expected that, too. My life has always been like that. The King of Salem tells Santiago, “…when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” And the Universe sends me presents all the time…

And so now, here I am. Ready to sell my flock. Knowing that I will be both protected and tested at each new turn. Excited by the idea of summiting a new peak. Anticipating all the growth and new strength required to climb down from my current perch and back up again. Overwhelmed by the good fortune of having my heart and soul and mind all together for once. But also moving deliberately, so that I don’t miss the gifts of the Universe and the signs placed along my way. Quieting my terror by repeating the thought that “people need not fear the unknown if they are capable of achieving what they need and want.”

I am that capable. I always have been. And with that realization, I am already half-way down my little mountain. Enjoying the relative ease of my descent. Knowing that I have all the necessary tools for the next big climb.

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The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho