What does it take to be a great writer with a following? or for that matter a coach with an avid following? You have to be willing to recognize and take responsibility for being central in someone else’s life, even if for a short time.

We artists have a baked-in aversion to this concept of being utterly relied upon, even as we seek to be irreplaceable and hope to be recognized as one-of-a-kind. There are a couple of emotional factors at work:

  1. Self Esteem – we don’t believe it possible that we, with all our confusion, vision and fly-by-night ideas could be very important to others. I came to this awareness recently when visiting with my sisters. My mother is a brilliant, funny and loving woman. But she couldn’t dare, for a moment, believe that she is central to our lives, even now, much less when we were young. She had a practical and unsentimental belief that yes, we needed care, but this could be administered by anyone with equal effect. This is not because she doesn’t love us fiercely, but because she can’t understand herself as being that important.
  2. Fear of Commitment – yes, we’re committed – married, in 30-year mortgages, working nine to five. No one can say we have the typical fear of commitment issues. But are you willing to commit to your readers? Actually be there for them? To serve them? That is a commitment we might dread. Commitments can bind and even limit. If we can be paralyzed over the choice between two phrases in a paragraph, believe me the commitment to connect with and be relevant to your readers’ lives – even when you’re feeling introverted – can be similarly scary and unappealing.

I was thinking about this concept, when I remembered a great line from Elizabeth Strout’s book:  Olive Kitteridge.  I wanted to find this powerful concept and reuse it in her words, so yesterday I accidentally reread the whole book and found it on p. 83.  Here’s the nut of it:

Despite the fact that Bonnie had just told her husband Harmon that she was “just done with that stuff,” Harmon thought there was “‘no passion that would turn him away from his wife.’ Bonnie was the central heating of his life.”

When we write, and live a public life as a writer or a coach, we have to be willing to be the central heating of someone else’s life. For as long as they’re reading our books, or as long as our show is on-air. And it is staggering to live with that responsibility, and hold that fragility (ours and theirs) in this commitment. And it can be equally hard to believe that they’ll let you. If you are to live a big life, you have to be able to believe that you can be the central heating to another life. And just be okay with that.