I am not a failure

When I was a child, I loved to write (and read). I wrote short stories, poems, invented magazines, sent out newsletters I built on AOL when we first got the internet – you name it, I wrote it. As I got a bit older I wrote angsty teenage poetry and then I learned to play guitar and wrote angsty teenage songs. For my dissertation at University I had to write a short novel – which I then eagerly submitted to various publishers, to which I received a resounding no (or a resounding nothing, which is the same thing). I applied for jobs in publishing, thinking that that would tide me over whilst I continued to pursue a writing career. Or that that would satisfy my love of writing and reading to such an extent that I would fall asleep happy in my quirky London flat, surrounded by books and manuscripts and half-filled notebooks and beautiful fountain pens.

img credit: anxietys.tumblr.com

Hi, my name is Rosie, I’m 31 years old, I live in Dorset and I work in HR. I do not have a quirky London flat, I am not a published author, people don’t pay me to write stuff, and after a second interview at a famous publishing house in 2005, I did not get the job, and I did not try again. I read a book recently that said to imagine describing your job to your 15-year-old-self. My 15-year-old-self furrows her brow and says “What on earth is an Assistant HR Business Partner?” – a question that, frankly, I cannot answer.

My 15-year-old-self probably put the headphones to her Minidisc Player back in and went back to listening to Tool and writing her Xanga blog. Ugh, my 15-year-old-self is so much cooler than me.

I berate myself constantly for this. I scroll through Pinterest and feel like I haven’t hustled enough, or made enough mood boards, or set the right goals, or pinned enough inspirational quotes. I feel like I have let my 15-year-old self down. I feel like I’ve sold out, wasted my talent, taken the easy route – settled. Which is weird, because working in HR can be bloody hard work, and doesn’t feel like settling at all. I drive to work and over and over I tell myself that I am a failure, and that I’ve squandered my dreams and I’ll never be a writer. And then, last week – and I remember that I was driving down a stretch of country road, in the rain, and I remember what section of the A35 I was driving down, and I remember the arc of the windscreen wipers and the song that was playing on the radio because so clearly, so audibly, as if another person had spoken, a voice said. You get paid to write (sometimes).  And, you are a writer.

I don’t know where it came from. Maybe my inner critic went rogue and decided to switch teams for a moment (to be fair, it has been playing on that side for a really long time, it deserves a break). 

Maybe I lost concentration for so long that I didn’t have the energy to battle myself, and that tiny voice that’s been trying to break through the overwhelming tide of self-criticism, found a crack and shone a little stream of light in. You do get paid to write, though, it said. You sort of are a writer. This time it was a bit quieter – like when you shout something out in class, and then the teacher asks you to repeat it and you doubt yourself a little. I mulled this over for a second. Okay – so my day job is that I work in HR. Between the hours of 9 and 5, I definitely work in HR. But during some of those other hours, I write stuff. Sometimes I write things and other people tell me that they enjoyed reading them, or they pass them on to friends and tell them to read it too. Sometimes people pay me to write things. And they tell me what they’d like me to write about, and I get to put my own unique spin on it, and I share it on my blog, and people read it. And then those people who asked me to write things give me money, and though it doesn’t pay my bills, sometimes it pays for things I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford, like trips away, or things for the house. And because I work in HR I earn enough to own a fairly nice house, and in that house are all my books and half-filled notebooks and a few pretty nice fountain pens. And because I work a job that allows me to work flexibly, I’m usually home by about half past 6, and I can sit down with a cup of tea and write things on my blog that sometimes people read. Or sometimes I write things in my notebook that no-one will ever read, and hey, that’s cool too.

As I mulled over it a bit more, I realised that my inner cheerleader (I’m calling her my inner cheerleader now– I might even give her a cool cheerleader type name, like Brooke) was right. I think my 15-year-old-self would be pretty impressed that I write stuff that people read, and enjoy, and that sometimes people pay me to write stuff too. Working all day and then coming home and writing and sharing things, and having people read those things, is actually pretty awesome. I’m not a failure, I’m actually kicking a little bit of ass at my dreams.

Also, I immediately think of what Shonda Rhimes says about dreams in her Dartmouth Commencement Address: “I think a lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing.”

Here are some more things that I’ve realised:

1. If you are achieving your dreams in some tiny, scaled down, not quite what I expected but having a go anyway kind of way – you are not a failure.

2. If you are achieving your dreams but you got there in a totally different, roundabout, A to Z via K kind of way – you are not a failure.

3. If you are achieving your dreams but they aren’t the dreams you thought you had, or more importantly the ones you were always told you had – you are not a failure.

4. If you aren’t earning money from your dream but you’re earning enough money to follow your dreams on the side and to have the odd weekend day to do the things that make your heart soar – you are not a failure.

Perhaps most importantly I learned to try and make a little more space for that tiny voice inside of me that’s on my side.  I know that I need to quieten my inner critic in order to allow my inner cheerleader to shake her pom poms and remind me that I’m not making half as much of a mess of things as I tell myself that I am.  (Thanks Brooke, you rule).