Jack of all trades
October 2, 2013 § 24 Comments
A curious thing happened to me yesterday: two small events, seemingly unrelated, that dovetailed neatly in a way I could never have predicted.
I was having lunch with a friend whose 10-year-old son has been having some difficulties at school. When I enquired how he was progressing, she said they’d had something of a breakthrough: “We started focusing on what he could do, rather than what he couldn’t do, and it’s made all the difference,” she said. By focusing on something he was passionate about – art – everything else had improved without any specific input. His marks in Maths, for example, had risen to an impressive 89%.
And then, in the afternoon, I got a message from another friend, someone who is a master at what he does, and whose opinion I respect enormously. I don’t want to go into details here yet; I haven’t processed it properly yet, but I’d sent him something I’ve been working on, and his response, in essence, was “You’re good – you should take this further. Anything’s possible. I dare you.”
I wish I could describe accurately how I felt. I sat in the car park at the school, blushing furiously – to the roots of my hair. I felt light-headed, sucker-punched. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I replayed the voice notes several times to make sure I’d heard correctly. Later at home, I listened again, and I cried.
Why did I react like that? Well, because for at least 20 years, I’ve listened to all the negative criticism and brushed aside any praise. I’m still not sure why, but there it is. I’ve worked like a demon at my writing because of the editor who told me I couldn’t string a sentence together, even when I had evidence to the contrary. Every time I’ve thought about singing, I’ve heard the voice of the person who told me I have a voice far better suited to being a back-up singer, despite having sung in choirs and shows and groups all my life. I’m a pretty decent cook, but I always apologise for my food while I’m serving it to people. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.
I’ve also clung to the notion that I needed to stick to one thing, give myself a label. I am a journalist. Or I am a writer. I couldn’t do more than one thing.
But yesterday, those two little events flipped a switch in my brain, after a year that has seen me rediscovering who I am in the strangest of ways. Why have I been focusing on all the things I thought I couldn’t do? And why do I have to do just one thing? Why can’t I be a Jack of all trades and a master of the whole bloody lot of them? Why do I persist in hiding my light under a bush?
In some ways, the idea that there was more to me has always lurked beneath the surface. I am always furious when people pigeonhole ‘celebrities’ who move into other disciplines – a singer or model who goes into acting, for example. Why shouldn’t they be capable of doing both? We aren’t all born with just one talent, and we all have the potential to do more than one thing.
I’m writing it all down here so you can keep me accountable. I’m going to need large amounts of courage and self-belief, and possibly some cheerleaders, because I’ve spent at least two decades telling myself I was useless, hopeless, lacking in talent, unimaginative and unexceptional in every way. That has to stop. It stops here.
And so, (forgive the ‘might’ – this is still a process for me, and I’m trying to undo 20-odd years of negative self-talk) here’s a list of the things I think I might be good at: writing, editing, life/writing coaching, songwriting, singing, organising, cooking, baking, teaching, acting, emceeing, public speaking. I might just try my hand at all of them.
Watch this space.