I just noticed that I seem to spend an awful lot of time exhorting all of you to do more and do it better, having singularly managed to ignore or avoid my own advice for donkeys years.
This hardly seems fair to me... Or, rather, to you.
Now let me tell you all why I bang on and on about doing more, doing it better, being organised, working harder. I do it because it has taken me far too long to begin to make any sort of career for myself.
I was speaking to a friend of mine the other day, an artist, whom I have a particular fondness for. She and I are more-or-less the same age, and she, like me is just beginning to make her way in her creative field. She has been, and continues to be, a very successful business woman, and it is partly due to this success that she now has the opportunity to do the thing she loves to do.
The reason she could be successful, but not in her creative field is because she, like me, felt the fear.
The lesson for today is that fear is our enemy until we make it our friend. My artist friend kept her art to herself for decades when what would make her happy in the end was to share it. She was afraid, just as I was.
But, listen up, because I’m not just talking about fear of failure.
I was one of those people who never tried too hard, because coming second wasn’t an option. If I went all-out on something and didn’t ‘win’ that counted as failure, so it was better not to try too hard and come in third or fifth or tenth. I did enough for teachers and parents and friends to be content, but I never exerted myself. I never put myself on the line... not until very recently.
Put that on one side, and let’s consider fear of success.
The Mslexia Novel Writing competition is a great example of this. Once I was longlisted, I became very anxious about being shortlisted. That’s fear of failure. Once I was shortlisted, I became very anxious about winning, because, if I won, there would be things to do: I might have to give an interview to Mslexia magazine, in which case I might make an idiot of myself. Jenni Murray was a judge, so... you know... I might get interviewed on Woman’s Hour. I’d be bound to trip over my words and give stupid answers. If I won, I might have to meet an agent, who might not like me. I might even be offered a book deal, for heaven’s sake! What the hell would I do then?
It’s OK to be afraid of those things. It’s also OK to know that, when push comes to shove, you can hold a reasonably intelligent conversation, answer a simple question, and even, who knows, make someone laugh.
The bottom line is, I was a runner-up in the Mslexia competition and that position signals success. I met my lovely agent, and was forgiven for spitting up my coffee when something was said that I wasn’t expecting. I was also forgiven my nervousness and my word-mangling, and we did get on. As far as I’m concerned, we had a great time.
I don’t know why it has taken me so long, but, I’m ready now... ready for anything: ready for failure, and to pick myself up and give it another good try; and ready for success, to reap the rewards of a job well done.
Can I suggest that you begin the process sooner rather than later. I’m glad I’m doing this now, but I wonder what on Earth prevented me from doing it ten, fifteen or even twenty years ago!