Chapter One: The start, this time.

It’s time to write again.

After opening my laptop, opening my browser, clicking the ‘writing’ bookmark folder (ever the optimist…), and clicking on my blog, I’m already distracted.

Should I re-organise my blog? Should I add my master’s thesis to the psychology essays bit? Does it even make sense that I still have psychology essays on here now I’ve passed my Master’s assignment of sharing them on a blog? Does this collection of random stuff have a clear message / target audience / tone of voice? I should probably have some sort of content strategy…

Pfft. Hush now, brain. Just click that button to start a new post. Done. Well done.

But then, again, I’m distracted. I’m in a particularly nice Waterstones. My favourite place to think (and also to eat Thai curry from the nearby food market, whilst simultaneously feeling slightly anxious about whether this is anti-social, or against the Waterstones rules, or both). I’m in the mathematics section (it somehow feels disrespectful to call it simply ‘maths’), and there’s a book called ‘Introduction to smooth manifolds’. Brain: “What is a smooth manifold?!” (I have since been kindly informed by a fellow Waterstones-wanderer that it might be something to do with geometry). I take a photo of the smooth manifold book, pretending to myself this action is in the name of the blog post. It’s actually so that I don’t, for another few seconds, have to begin writing, which is the thing I simultaneously want to do and don’t want to do.

I think perhaps that’s what this post is about.

I’ve had a rough idea, for a few years now, about what it is I want to do. By do, I mean for my job / career / vocation / reason-for-being etc etc. What gets me up in the morning (other than my cat leaping onto the bed purring as loud as a lawnmower at the fact we all made it through the night).

Early last year I found an old notebook, in which I’d described what it was, roughly, that I wanted to do. It was a surprise to me that I’d already known these things for a couple of years. I’m not sure why I hadn’t realised this earlier, seeing as the information must have been stored in my own brain somewhere, and not just in the notebook. But, truth is, at the same time as having a persistent nagging, tugging, I’m-not-completely-fulfilled feeling, the words that had repeatedly come to mind and mouth when thinking about what I wanted to do were, “I don’t know what I want to do”.

I decided that one reason I hadn’t realised that I knew what I wanted to do after all, and hadn’t moved myself in this direction, was because my current job was quite all-consuming. Because as well as the I’m-not-completely-fulfilled feeling, I had a lurking I-think-I’m-burning-out feeling. What with a 4-hour daily commute and an intense project, on top of a recent break-up and a bereavement, I didn’t have much headspace to figure out what I really wanted to do and how to do it.

Sounds legit, right? And I think to some extent, it was. So I took a 3-month sabbatical, and kicked this off with a workshop by CareerShifters, called ‘How to Find the Work You Love’. I came out of the workshop realising I really did know what I wanted to do, but kept self-censoring it. Partly because, for some reason, I thought other people would think it, or I, was stupid.

An exercise towards the end of the workshop involved a role play, in which we introduced ourselves to the rest of the group as though we were in the future, doing our new job. I stood there, repeatedly starting a sentence, and then throwing my hands over my face and turning away from the group and just wanting the ground to swallow me up. It reminded me of when I went bridge-swinging, and the man in charge had to prise my fingers off the edge of the bridge because I couldn’t make myself let go, despite the safety harness.

Screenshot 2018-12-08 14.03.20

But when I finally let go? I said it. Mumbled it. Red in the face. And I got a huge round of applause. My workshop partner hugged me, and people said ‘That’s SO cool!’, ‘Tell me more about it!’.

I’d love to tell you that, since that experience, I’ve been following my dreams. But, alas… Since then, I’ve found many more old notebooks describing similar ideas about what I want to do. Yesterday I came across an old Trello board. It was a workflow of ideas to bring to life. It contained notes on strategy, my plans for up-skilling myself, ideas of what I was excited to write about. But I hadn’t really started doing it. What happened?

In Derren Brown’s book ‘Happy’, he talks about how sometimes you really look forward to going on holiday, and think everything will be different to the day-to-day that’s been wearing you down a bit. But then some part of it is a little disappointing. He says it’s because you’ve taken yourself on holiday. You are still there with you. All your brain habits, hang-ups, worries, etc. They all came with you.

So what did I take with me after that inspiring workshop? Alongside my commitment to finally go after what I wanted to do, I took my continued fears about what others would think. I took my beliefs that I wasn’t credible enough to talk about or do these things. I took my fears that I wouldn’t be good enough.

So, instead of my post-workshop plan of going down to 4 days a week at work, so that I could work on my own projects on the side, I ended up quitting my job and doing a Master’s. I now have a distinction in Psychology from a top University, which is nice. But, if I’m being brutally honest with myself, this seemingly brave decision was not the bravest one I could have taken.

One of the reasons I chose this option was because I let my fears and limiting beliefs influence my decision. I felt I needed a ‘stamp’ to be credible. I felt I needed an ‘official’ route that people couldn’t so easily laugh at or criticise. A route that didn’t truly force me out of my comfort zone and put ‘me’ ‘out there’. Me as I am, flaws included.

NotebooksNo regrets. I did the best I could with who I was at the time. Sure, it could be a bit depressing seeing the stack of barely-started notebooks, the cut-dead Trello boards, the draft blog posts, the repeated ‘aha’ moments written down and then left behind. But you know what? I’m really lucky that I can look all that in the face. That I can feel the passion to do this stuff is still there in my chest. That I can reflect on what stopped me before. That I can vow to really start, this time.

So here we are. I’m starting. And here’s my answer to some of my limiting beliefs.

  • “People will think this is stupid.”
    • Yep. Some people probably will. But also, some people will probably think it’s awesome. My friend Tom once said to me (on the first iteration of my blog in 2014…), “Yeah, it might be crap. But the internet is just SO BIG that, chances are, someone somewhere will like it”. So, someone, this is for you.
  • “Who the hell am I to write about this stuff? I’m not an expert.”
    • Nope, you’re not. But how did anyone ever become an expert? They started learning about it. And you love learning. And you fundamentally believe that to learn you have to f*ck up. So go let yourself f*ck up.

As one of my heroes puts it:

“Really Hagrid, if you are holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

― J.K. Rowling, Harvard Commencement speech