#FBOMBSEvent: A Conversation With Erica Nichole About Fearlessness

In addition to being my writing soulmate, Erica Nichole of EverythingEnJ will facilitate the discussion about fearlessness at “FBOMBS: Feminism, Failure and Fearlessness” on Oct. 25. In this Q&A, Erica discusses the role fearlessness has played in her own life and writing.

The overall objective of FBOMBS is to bring women together and create a space for them to share their voices. Tell us more about your “What Binds Us Together” series and how that has created space for women’s stories. 
What Binds Us Together: Our Stories came about after hosting my first event of the same name with a slight variation back in August. I got fourteen of my closest friends and some new faces together to talk all things blogging and what happened exceeded my expectations. The women in attendance and I started discussing things that our audiences don’t usually get to read on our platforms and the overall feel of that event showed me that as women, we’re bound together by so much more than what we write on our blogs. It’s not that we don’t want to share these experiences with the world, it’s just that Internet can be such a scary place and feeling safe in sharing these stories that are necessary can often be difficult.

So I wanted to create What Binds Us Together in hopes these same women I was fortunate enough to dine with and know personally off of social media, would share these moments that others feel uncomfortable talking about, but have been through themselves. I opened up the series with my own story about abortion and I was so overwhelmed with the amount of feedback I received after posting it. I should be used to it by now, but it still amazes me how many people are going through these same situations, feeling these same emotions, and hiding these same truths. The series serves as a safe haven for women to candidly write about those moments that mold us, in hopes that other women know, despite our differences, we’re bound together by these experiences that would normally break us, but instead built us up.

You’ll be facilitating a discussion around fearlessness. How has fear propelled you? How has fear held you back?
I was recently asked the question at a mentoring event, what are your personal goals, to which I answered, to stop hesitating and just do and just be. For years, fear was the common denominator in why I kept missing out on opportunities because I felt like I wasn’t good enough or worthy of all of the doors that kept opening in front of me. Fear kept me in an unhealthy relationship, feeling like I didn’t deserve better. Fear kept me at a job I wasn’t happy at because I was unaware of how beautiful and powerful and crucial change is. Fear permeated my psyche in a sense and I grew comfortable in it, until I started lashing out on my children because of that job I outgrew, until I went to work with bruises on me because of that unhealthy relationship that I needed out of.

Fear made me look at myself in a different light. I didn’t know who I was after a while and I lost sight of my values so when I got tired of my situation and got sick of how I was treating myself, it was then that I saw the flip-side of fear. It drove me to test the unknown and I saw the positives in taking chances and how much we need to welcome risks in our lives. Leaving that unhealthy relationship, gave me a fresh start. Finding a new job, provided me with more. I didn’t know where I would be after I left both but just throwing my hands up and using the other f-bomb contributed to something bigger and better and I’m grateful for that.

How does fearlessness influence your writing?
Wow, well fearlessness definitely contributes the most to my style of writing. Fearlessness pushed me to blog about the things only my journal knew or the secrets I swore I would be buried with. I sort of equate it to freedom when I write – I feel liberated when telling these stories, if not while writing it, definitely after publishing it and it’s out in the world. I think embodying that sense of fearlessness makes the process of sharing some of those painful accounts a little easier and it has really helped other women open up and want to embrace that side of them as well. Being fearless in my writing serves as the catalyst in where I am with my work today.

Arianna Huffington has said that being fearless doesn’t mean living a life that’s completely without fear, but living a life in which we don’t let our fears stop us from pursing our dreams. What are some ways you’ve learned to master your own fear?
Great question and great point from Arianna. Well, I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it, but I would say that I’ve learned how to deal with it when that feeling arises by remembering the possibilities that were birthed from fear. A lot of my good fortune derived from those initial feelings of apprehension and simply not giving into them. I love that part of living a life in which we don’t let our fears stop us because that’s something I have to remind myself of everyday. I know firsthand what living in fear and letting it consume you will do to you. I’ve gotten to that point of feeling confident in who I am and what I do and it’s not about arrogance, but I have to continually tell myself, no one can stop me, except me. I don’t give fear that power over my decisions and my life anymore.

The other two discussions taking place at FBOMBS are about feminism and failure. How, if at all, does fearlessness intersect with those two topics?
Today there is no “set example” of who is a feminist and yet, there are millions of women who identify as such for varying reasons and I believe there’s that feeling of fearlessness rooted in that. We saw it when Beyoncé stood in front of a screen with the word while wearing a bejeweled bodysuit, knowing that people would be pissed about that, knowing that there would be thousands of think pieces about her using that f-word again. She stood there confidently and that was bold. That was badass. That moment was an evident sign of ***fearlessness while flawless and I think that more people, especially women against feminism, should be accepting of those who are audacious enough to debunk the myth that feminism equates to “eff” men and are fighting to rewrite what the world believes it to be. We don’t have enough daring people in this world, let’s applaud those who are. Let’s applaud the Lena Dunham’s, the Emma Watson’s, the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s, the Audre Lorde’s and their journey in fighting for gender equality even with backlash.

Being fearful can lead to failure. Being fearless can also lead to failure, but it’s in being fearless that you’re able to deal with not achieving something a little easier. I think when you’ve encompassed that sense of courageousness, it’s not as hard to get back up and get back on track. You got this drive, this fortitude in you to keep on going regardless of how many times you know you’ll mess up because of that passion in you to fight for what you want. So are failure and fearlessness intertwined in a sense? Absolutely.

What can attendees expect from you at FBOMBS?
Anyone who follows my blog knows that I’m an open book so expect the same times ten, in person. Attendees can expect 25 minutes of a personal story that revolves around my relationship with fearlessness, questions directed at them to consider and reflect on their own lives and that classic feeling of “girl-talk” in an intimate setting. We’re going to talk about stepping it up after you’ve been setback, we’re going to touch on the notion that being confident in what you do makes you a bitch and we’re definitely going to discuss how we need to be unapologetic about the fearlessness that we all possess.

What do you hope to take away from the event as a facilitator?
This will by my first time facilitating a discussion of this capacity and so I know I’ll learn and grow from this experience. In sharing my own story, I hope that I can spark something in an attendee to live a life of fearlessness of her own. I’m bringing an each one, teach one attitude with me to D.C.

The event will close with a panel discussing, “The Final F: Fallouts and Forgiveness.” How have you learned to forgive? 
Forgiveness is something that I have embraced and found the true definition of this year so it’s great that as 2014 comes to an end, the event closes with this topic. My biggest fallout was actually with my mother and I mustered up the strength to write a piece this past Mother’s Day called Finding Forgiveness. The liberating part of that post was letting her know that I forgive her because I forgave myself and it was something that I needed to do for me. I found holding on to hurtful memories and ill feelings doesn’t do us as the individual any good, so it’s in learning how to forgive that we find ourselves freed from those experiences and finally at a peace.

Erica Nichole photo for FBOMBS
Erica Nichole is an Afro-Latina from NYC, a mother of two, and the sole writer behind her blog, Everything EnJ, a Best Personal Blog nominee for the 2014 Black Weblog Awards. Known for writing the nitty-gritty and keeping the art of storytelling alive, Erica uses her platform to document both the highs and lows of her life, while the blog also showcases the untold stories of various women for the What Binds Us Together: Our Stories series. She serves as a main writer for From A Wildflower and proudly exemplifies fearlessness with a glass of wine in her hand. Find her on Twitter @KaeNdKamsMom / @everythingEnJ.
F Bombs SM Piece FINAL
FBOMBS: Feminism, Failure and Fearlessness is a roundtable discussion and networking event that will invite women to share their stories, opinions and truth. The event will take place Saturday, Oct. 25 from 3:30-6:30 p.m. at THEARC DC. Purchase your tickets here.

Reader Question: There Aren’t Any Definitive Starting Points

“…Like yourself and all other people who possess a natural talent and gift, the fear of how other people will receive that gift holds me back, unfortunately. Erykah said it best- ‘keep in mind that I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit. I have never shared my writing with anyone aside from my best friends (and you) and even they have only read one or two things that I produced…maybe you could provide me with some sort of insight or advice on where I should start since you’ve been in this writing game for a while.” –Tamara

I would love to tell you that there is a definitive starting point. I would love to tell you do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars and start at some neatly carved-out square with your name beautifully written on it. I wish it were that easy. But, there are not any definitive starting points. There is not anything clear or clean cut about entering the writing world. There is not a rule book. There is not a manual. It’s you in the middle of a desolate field, shouting into the void and only hearing your own echoes. It’s you in the center of bumblefuck, without any guide or compass. Bumblefuck is where you start.

Sure, you can ask others, the same way you asked me. You can ask them how they got started. In fact, you should ask them how they got started. I’ve found that people who want to dive into the writing world ask questions. They’re voracious for knowledge and stories and dos and donts. I’m still the same way. I always want to ask before I make a move. Always want to look left, right, forward and backward before I leap. I always want someone to affirm that I’m not about to screw everything up. But, I have found the only person who can ever truly affirm that is me. My gut. My intuition. The voice in my head left humming after everyone else has said their piece.

The voice in your head that’s humming–that is where you start.

I could tell you to start a blog because that’s how I started. But, I would also have to tell you that blogs are very public beasts and every day I struggle with whether or not the term “personal blog” is an oxymoron. That public element is the only reason anyone outside of my mom cares about what I write. But, that public element is also why total strangers think they know everything about me. Blogs are you putting your shit on full display. Blogs are your dirty laundry hanging on a clothesline for the entire neighborhood to see.

But, as an artist who is sensitive about your shit, blogs are also a way to connect with other artists…who are sensitive about their shit. Blogs are you saying the things that others think and may be afraid to say aloud. Blogs are you being brave, audacious, forthright, candid, honest, authentic. Blogs are you committing to your art and having an audience hold you accountable to that commitment.

That commitment is where you start.

Bumblefuck, the voice in your head and a sense of commitment. Those are your not-so-definitive starting points. You don’t get a neat starting point. Just start. A starting point is something you only understand in retrospect, a light beam of a moment you remember as you’re speeding down the highway of your career and reminiscing about who you were before you zoomed away.

And, to address the first part of your question in the last part of my response…

I’m currently working on a poem I’m set to perform in two weeks called “World Under Fire.” It’s a political and personal piece. It’s autobiographical. It’s dense and intense. Last night I was reciting it and afterward I said aloud, “Man, I really hope people get this poem.” That fear about the reception of our art doesn’t go away. But, how people will receive your gift does not eliminate the fact that you, indeed, have the gift. If you want me to get all biblical on you, I would say to whom much is given, much is required. Artists bear the responsibility of sharing the work the world needs to see, hear and feel in order to survive. We keep the pulse of the world going when it’s dying, when it’s flat-lining, when there is not anything but seeping piles of shit every time we turn on CNN. We are not the brains of the operation; we are the heart.

Some people won’t get your art. Some people won’t like it. Some people are idiots and some people are cynics. But, gifts are not for all people to “get” or like. The recipe for your art is not for everyone’s palate. The fear is natural; the choice to let it hold you back, however, is limiting. You have it. Share it. Distribute it. Display it. Believe in it. Reveal it. Unveil it. Showcase it. Fight for it. Live loudly. Live boldly. Live unapologetically. Live with brass balls and a bursting heart. That is why you have the gift. Use it.


The Myth of Being Fearless

I finally purchased my blogger douchebag card also known as writing a mission statement. Don’t go looking for it on this site. It’s not here. Ultimately, I can’t bring myself to be the kind of person with a “Mission” page atop my homepage as though we’re about to go fight in the Battle of Bull Run. No. This is just writing. It’s not that serious.

However, upon Emily’s recommendation, I did think it was time to anchor what I’m trying to achieve with a few words. I spent a Friday night pulling ideas together on a Keynote presentation (yes, my life is as exhilarating as it sounds.) I then spent a Saturday morning with Emily in a coffee shop picking apart words on slides titled “mission”, “audience” and “blog’s personality.” We devoted a good deal of time to coming up with four or five words to describe my ideal audience. In the past, I’ve described my audience as “observant, irreverent and unconventional women.” I like the word “irreverent” a little too much. Emily made a valid point that irreverent isn’t a word that carries the best connotation; in other words, it makes my ideal audience sound like a bunch of assholes. So we hit up thesaurus.com for a substitute.

“Fearless?” I asked her.

Before she could reply, I scoffed and said, “Ugh, that’s so ‘Cosmopolitan.'” (No, really, their motto is “Fun Fearless Female“. I am arguably only one of those things.)

We scanned the synonyms a bit more and finally landed on “courageous”. It stuck.

There are a few words, often times used in the context of feminism, that make me cringe. Empower is one. Fearless is another. I am also a flaming hypocrite who recently used both in a profile I wrote for Be Moxie…go figure. Fearless’ noun cousin “fearlessness” is also in the title of my upcoming fall event. Ok, maybe I’m not making the best case for myself but jive with me. Hypocrisy aside, I think we like to fling around the word fearless too much. It wasn’t until I sat there with Emily pontificating about my ideal audience that I realized what a crock of shit it is to say how “fearless” we are.

Earlier this year, I penned a Q&A for GG Renee Hill’s “All The Many Layers” recapping the “See. Speak. Feel.” showcase. There is a bit of that feature that I always return to when I consider fear:

Did you have any fears or insecurities leading up to the event and if so, what did you do to push through?
Yes, yes and yes. I lost A LOT of sleep over the showcase. During every stage of the planning, I worried. I worried that people would not reach out to perform or showcase their art. I worried that people would not buy tickets (and we ended up with a sold out show…go figure.) I worried that something would go horribly awry that night. That being said, I don’t know if there was anything specific I did to push through. I just felt so invested in the success of that night that it felt as though I had no choice but to push through. I got to a point where I so badly wanted to see it all come together so there was no way I could turn back. And, my money was on the line. Money will keep you invested real quick.

Dictionary.com defines fear as a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc.,whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.” 

When I look at that definition of fear, nothing about it strikes me as wrong, limiting or terrible. Fear is not toxic by itself; how we choose to respond to that fear determines its toxicity. For some people, fear is an insurmountable brick wall. For others, it’s an adrenaline rush. For some people, fear is an arrow telling them to run in the other direction. For others, it’s an arrow telling them to run in that same direction. Fear pushes and pulls each of us in varying ways.

In the context of my writing and blog, fear is what I use to push me. If I am not scared as hell about what I’m doing, there isn’t any point in doing it. If I’m not afraid, it means I haven’t set the bar high enough. I expect the fear. In fact, I wait for it. Because once it shows up, I know I’m about to pull off some shit. I know I’m about to do something important and impactful.

At midnight when my post “When Someone Says Suicide Is Selfish” went live, my heart started racing like no other. I was afraid–of the responses, of my own capacity to handle the responses, of reliving that pit in my life and of what writing something so unbaked would mean for the course of my blog. But, I still published it. I hardly slept. But, I still published it. I let my own conviction about the need for that piece in that moment outweigh the fear.

Now, that piece is one of the most significant and well-received posts I’ve ever penned. That piece changed the game. Baring my soul and sharing a story in that kind of way changed how I perceived myself as writer for the better. It was only the second or third time I wrote something and cried my way through both writing and proofing it. (Correction: cried my way through writing something that I chose to publish; we can’t count all of the diatribes about men hidden on my laptop.) That piece made everything and all of this shit that I’m sharing real. It made it real. It was more than words and a screen and some retweets. And it ached. And it hurt. And it sent pangs of icy doubt right through the center of my body. But, it was one of the best things I ever did on behalf of one of the best people I ever knew.

I am not fearless. I don’t want to be. I want to be afraid. I want the sweaty palms and the nervous “ums” and the shaking boots. Give it to me. Give me the fear so that I can sit side-by-side with it and prove it wrong every single time. Give me the fear so that when it’s all said and done and I’ve bossed up, I can remember that the fear never lasts. Give me the fear. Let me touch it. Let me cradle it. Let me lick its bitter and steely exterior in that crazed Huck kind of way. Give me the fear so that I can flash it a wink once the success has taken a seat at the table. Give me the fear so that I can remember how gratifying it feels to be courageous–not to live without fear, but to instead face it head-on with my boobs propped up and my head held high. I am not fearless. I am afraid. And that is motivating as a motherfucker.


Push Off The Cozy Blanket Of Fear

Recently, I received this email: (edited)

I am a follower of your blog and Twitter. I must say your fearlessness is rather intriguing and gives me hope to continue my blog. I currently have a blog and a column at school. I want to upgrade my blog and in some way combine it with my column.  Bloggers like yourself have encouraged me to invest in myself and my craft. What I worry about is reaching a bigger audience.

I am not sure if I am scared of success or failure but I feel lonely in my enthusiasm and ideas. I do not have much support from older peers and my friends are all about it because they are my friends but how can I get over this? I want to involve myself in the blogger world but I am scared I won’t fit in. I first will like to thank you for taking the time to read this and I now humbly ask for your constructive criticism. Is this normal to feel this way?

You wrote a lot. And, you asked some pretty heavy questions. So, in turn, I am going to write a lot and give you some pretty heavy answers.

It’s interesting that you used the word “fearlessness” because I am afraid every day. All the time. I am afraid I will never be able to pursue writing the way I really want to. I am afraid of what happens when I turn 30 and can no longer write under the tagline of a “sincere, sassy and sometimes smart-assy take on growing up.” I am afraid that I will choose my career over my relationships and lose the people who knew me before all of this. I am afraid that my well of ideas will run dry. I am afraid. All of the time. But, I just keep writing because it does not make sense to do anything else. The pulse inside of me that only beats if I write is what outweighs the fear. It outweighs the fear of losing my brand or my words or my relationships. That pulse is quick and it thuds so loudly that I have no other choice but to write.

There are a few things you touched on including reaching a larger audience, feeling lonely in your ideas and enthusiasm and getting involved in the blogger world. I will tackle those three.

Do not worry about reaching a larger audience at first. No, really. Don’t. Don’t care about that right now. You can’t afford to care about that. You have to build first. That’s what kills me about some people in the blogging community–they want to be a global movement before they’re even a household name. You have to start small. You have to start local before you can even think about being global. There are levels to this shit. Sure, now I have a consistent readership, but I wrote for a year in relative obscurity. The only people who continually read my work then were my oldest sister and a few friends. But, I didn’t care because I knew I had something to say and I believed in whatever that was. So, right now, just build. My blogging trajectory has very much adhered to the mantra of “build it and they will come.” Believe in what you are saying and say it. If your goal up front is to gain crazy high readership, you’ll spin your wheels and sell your soul trying to get there.

But, once your readership grows (because it can and it will), that is when you grow with it. As your brand expands, that is when you make changes. That is when you develop new ideas. That is when you shift. I never set out to have giveaways or an intern or events. But, my blog offspring started to outgrow its clothes and I had to change the contents of its closet.

In terms of your ideas and enthusiasm, you will be lonely. Passion breeds loneliness because no one will ever care about your work as much as you. And, that is sometimes a maddening reality because you want the people around you to get excited when you come up with a great idea for a post or you start working on a new project. But, somehow, the strength of that passion manages to wan every time it moves beyond you. It’s like a parent showing off pictures of their infant and everyone in the office repeating, “Aw, so cute!” No one groaned in pain for 10 hours trying to birth that kid. No one else knows just how tough and rewarding it has been to raise that child. Only the parent knows, so only the parent loves it in that unconditional and knee-jerk kind of way.

The upside to all of that is that passion breeds results. Passion is what you come to rely on even on the days when you are tired or don’t have the best idea for a post. It’s that loud pulse that won’t stop thudding.

Your friends will be all about it because they are your friends, but the more you work, the more you will find uninhibited, no holds barred support from unlikely sources. I love some of my closest friends, but I would not call all of them my biggest supporters. They read some of my work. They know I write. They see how much I tweet about writing. But, they are not necessarily the people pushing me and inspiring me on a routine basis. The people, and particularly women, who have rallied around my work are people I hardly knew before I started my blog. Let the support rise from a place or person you never considered.  Let the love come from unexpected corners.

As far as the blogging world goes, you don’t need to fit in. Bloggers exist in the land of misfit toys. That is why we blog–because our worlds, our words and our lives make little sense elsewhere. You will fit in if you bring every piece of who you are to what you produce and if you do so consistently. The only people who think blogging is competitive are people who are threatened by someone else’s voice. The people who think blogging is about connecting and creating a sense of community are people who stand firm in the uniqueness of what they have to say. Stand firm. You already have a blog. You already have a column. I do not have one doubt in my mind that you have something to say and the world needs to hear it.

And, finally, do not think too much. Just do. Just write. Just produce. The accolades will come. The readers will come and so will the haters. But, for now, just create. Don’t let apprehension stymie you from doing something that you are so clearly meant to do. You asked if it was normal to feel this way. It is more than normal to be afraid. But, too many people rest in the cozy blanket of fear. They never push it off of them long enough to do anything substantial in this world. You reached out to me. You are already invested. You are already ready. You are already as unafraid as you need to be to do this crazy thing called blogging. Now, you just have to go do it.