Back in the nineties, it was common for kids to be told they had ‘potential’, and I was no exception. Whatever I tried (except dancing and gymnastics, which I clearly sucked at), teachers and other parents would tell me I had potential to do well at it. This made me feel a little bit special. It also made me feel like I should be the best without having to try very hard. So, when I was inevitably beaten by someone better, I often gave up, thinking that I didn’t have what it took to succeed.
Despite all my ‘potential’, I was missing something. Being constantly told that I had talent resulted in me becoming hungry for the reward, not the process. I wanted to stand on the podium, not train for hours to run the race. I wanted my art to be magically discovered, not be picked to pieces by some professor. I wanted someone to pay me to write a bestselling novel, I didn’t want to slog away posting blogs that only my mum read. And because I didn’t see the value in the process of working hard to perfect a skill or talent, I was left with the disappointment of never reaching my elusive potential.
If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing, it would be, “identify the thing you love to do for its own sake, and do that thing every day”. I would also tell myself to learn to love the problems and challenges that went with that thing I loved to do. Mark Manson says it best in his brutally honest, hilarious book, The Subtle Art of not Giving a Fuck.
“A question that most people never consider is, ‘what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?’ Because that seems to be the greater determinant of how our lives turn out. For example, most people want to have great sex and an awesome relationship, but not everyone is willing to go through the tough conversations, the awkward silences, the hurt feelings, and the emotional psychodrama to get there.”
In my early days of writing I was so focused on the reward that I expected everything I produced to be snapped up by a big-time publisher/magazine. Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t. The times my work was rejected, I took to mean that I wasn’t talented after all (read: time to give up). The times it was accepted, I waited for the phone to continue to ring with amazing offers, and when it didn’t, I stopped producing and sharing my writing. In both cases, I stopped doing the work because I felt like I’d failed if my goal wasn’t reached immediately and took it as proof that I wasn’t good enough to be a write after all.
Now that I’m in my thirties, I’m slowly discovering how liberating it is to not feel special or entitled. My latest realisation is that I love the process of writing, and have been doing it, albeit secretly, since I was five. I’ve also realised that I’m ready to tackle the problems associated with the choice to be a writer. These problems include: people hating what I write or no one reading my articles at all, having to generate the discipline to regularly write and share, and planning for the ebbs and flows of self-employment. I’m also ready to become an adult around money and to learn how to run a creative business so I can keep doing what I love to do.
Reading The Subtle Art of not Giving a Fuck has coincided with my own re-evaluation of values, and most importantly, the discovery that the ordinary, aspects of life are often my favourite. Sitting down with a cup of chai to write this brings me more joy that 1000 likes on facebook or a paycheck from a big magazine. Watching my son immersed in lego or my daughter drawing gives me (and evidently, them) more pleasure than clapping as they are given a token merit award for something they don’t care about. Ordinary, average things don’t produce the same intense high as feeling ‘special’ does, but they do generate the kind of nourishing, lasting sense of belonging that creates a beautiful life. Being ordinary makes me feel like I can contribute more to the world – more honesty, creativity and authenticity – because I’m not waiting for validation of my specialness or talent, I’m just happy to be part of the conversation. As Manson says, “The knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly want to accomplish, without judgement or lofty expectation.” The reward is the fact that I can do what I love, and share it with others. End of story.