I’ve moved around a lot in the past few years. In fact, I’ve packed up my worldly belongings into battered cardboard boxes and relocated my entire life...
I found my Record of Achievement the other day. It’s a folder I was given in secondary school (do students still get those?) containing certificates and exam results and spaces for me to write my thoughts. What did I want to be when I was grown? Where did I see myself years from now? What was THE BIG DREAM?
The big dream of course, was writing.
15-year-old me said (with oh so much vigour – you just have to read between the lines), “I would like to become a journalist or an actress. These types of work appeal to me because I enjoy writing and performing.”
Fanciful dreams of gracing the stage aside, writing was all I wanted.
Until I dragged my mum to a university open day to hear a talk about their journalism degree (because what other viable form of professional writing was there?) and ended up being scared witless by a tutor who was all IT’S COMPETITIVE and YOU’D BETTER BE THICK-SKINNED and I was all MUM LET’S GO BECAUSE I DAREN’T RISK ANYONE HERE FINDING OUT THAT I ABSOLUTELY CANNOT DO THIS.
I’d always believed success to be doing the thing you were good at and the thing you really wanted to do. And now that my paper-thin skin had forced writing off the table, I had no idea where to go.
Well. We’ve all heard the saying, “Those who can’t, teach.” In my case? So true.
I got some childcare experience under my belt, headed to university for three years to train as a teacher, and then got my very own class of ready-to-mould, sponge-like four-year-olds.
And I was utterly miserable. During my teacher training, I’d been referred to a counsellor. I only went to two sessions and found the woman to be profoundly unhelpful. But that may have just been my state of mind.
I’d gone to my GP because my boyfriend at the time no longer knew how to support me. It had gone from a niggle at the back of my mind to me crying hysterically on the landing. I couldn’t articulate how frightened and frozen I felt. I vividly remember sitting around one of those tiny primary school tables one day, my legs just about squidged underneath it, and looking at the oh-so-young and innocent faces of the Reception pupils around me as we played a counting game with little plastic teddy bears. “One day, none of us will be here,” was the thought that kept swimming around my brain. It sounds completely melodramatic and unnecessary now, and to this day I can’t explain why it became the preoccupation it did, but it totally consumed me.
So my GP recommended therapy.
Everything about my life just seemed completely pointless. I wasn’t doing what I knew I was supposed to be doing. Imposter syndrome at its peak – I was certain that I’d be outed as a terrible teacher and then be forced to admit that I never wanted to be there in the first place.
Anais Nin once said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I feel I should get this tattooed or something, such is the prominence of this sentiment in my life. In this instance, I’d spent all my time striving for something that wasn’t what undeniably compelled me to my core. It wasn’t what every cell in my body was clamouring to pursue. It wasn’t what I’d been doing on the sly since I was an eight-year-old with a padlocked diary and a bookcase stuffed with new worlds. Ignoring all of that, thinking I could outsmart my ambitions, was painful.
It was when I pulled over and sobbed into my steering wheel on the way to work that I knew things had to change. I had to aim for something else.
So I quit. And moved to the other end of the country. I now have a new day job (I’m a nanny to two insanely great children), and I have what the kids these days are calling “a side hustle.”
Yep. I write. Professionally. For a few hours a day/whenever I can, as I build up my client base and my portfolio of work. My ambition is to take it full-time. And even though “success” hasn’t landed, gift-wrapped, on my doorstep (because I’m realising more and more each day that these things take work), my body is happy. My mind is (mostly) settled. Because I know that I’m going after the right things now. The things that (yes, I’m gonna go there) I’m supposed to be going for.
See, in my old life, I didn’t want to be my boss. There was no vision. I’d look ahead five years and genuinely have no idea where I saw myself. I didn’t get chills or feel fluttery about the future. But now, I do. Now, I think about the possibilities with my work and I literally want to jump up and down. I have frantic client meetings when there’s a big project we need to pull off, and I feel more jazzed than I ever have in my life. Clients trust me to tell their stories, I get to learn what keeps them going, and I feel intensely privileged.
I look at the twentysomething women in my social media circles and MAN we’re an engaged and ambitious bunch, huh? I’m talking podcasters, published authors, booksellers and filmmakers. Artists, entrepreneurs, designers and poets. On the one hand, if I let the mind chatter take hold, it all freaks me out a bit. I mean, OH MY DAYS WHY AREN’T I MORE ACCOMPLISHED ALREADY WHY DID I FAFF AROUND DOING A JOB I DIDN’T LIKE WHY WHY WHY.
But then I breathe. And moan to several friends. And sleep on it for a bit. And consume copious amounts of green tea and Dairy Milk. And feel like it’s OK. They’re doing it. I can do it. We can all do it. We just have to keep doing it.
Because that’s the thing about ambition. About potential. About so-called “success” (which I firmly believe is whatever you determine it to be). Very rarely do we feel we’ve “made it.” There’s not some place we get to, kick off our boots and settle in. Ambitions shape-shift. The path to this mythical place just keeps getting longer. It’s a day-to-day slog (and the slog is so real sometimes). But the payoff? Oh, it’s so worth all the toiling and missteps, believe me. Keep going. Just one small step every day. It might not feel like it at the time, but they all add up.
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