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.


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§ 24 Responses to Jack of all trades

  • Congrats Mandy. We grow up being told what not to do instead of being told what to do. So we focus on the negative. You have amazing talents and enjoy all of them.


  • Kit says:

    We all need cheerleaders and encouragers, maybe writers more than anyone… or maybe that’s because I always feel like a fraud when I say I’m a writer, even though it is what I do for a living, I still don’t feel proper!
    I love your writing and I’m sure you can do all of those other things well too. So consider yourself cheered on!


  • Yay! Overdue ephiphany.


  • Di Brown says:

    So thrilled you can see yourself as the rest of the world sees you! I can relate, it is like you peeked inside my brain and listened to my inner critics!
    I only know you through your blogs and Twitter, from this I know you are clever, extremely funny, you dominate words, you have great insight and I love your self deprecating humour. Having heard you on the radio it seems like you are a great mom. Does not sound like a *not good enough* person to me. However, I have not heard you sing yet, or tasted your food…….
    A lovely piece that will resonate with plenty of superwomen out there.


  • Kim Barker says:

    As someone who stalks your blog because I enjoy it so much and still misses our chats (what resonances) when our girls were little together at St M. I have to say that I am cheering and applauding and urging you on. Yes!! Your new philosophy is the one I follow in therapy with others, but also struggle sometimes to apply it to my own jack-of-all-tradeness! I am newly inspired -thank you πŸ™‚


  • Kerry says:

    Wow. Just wow. You spoke directly to my heart here. I even have a tear in my eye. Thank you. For me and for my son.


  • Bravo! Sometimes just putting it out there gives me the courage to believe in myself. Love this post!!


  • charliesbird says:

    Yes, you can! I love your fighting spirit, the spirit that got you climbing into a car to take on OWB, the spirit that has you working on your novel rewrites, the spirit that I hear in your bacon song on YouTube. You are amazing, and an inspiration to your girls, and the people you meet along the way!


  • Chantal Shaw says:

    Hi Mandy
    Incredibly well said! So many of us are so guilty of negative talk and putting ourselves down! What impresses me is the fact one is never too old to learn! I had a similar epiphany a few weeks ago! One thinks somewhere around 3000 thoughts a day! When you go to sleep your brain processes those thoughts! Now if you think good, positive affirming thoughts, your brain begins to believe them when they are being processed! We deserve so much more than the angst we put ourselves through! I’m watching this space for all the brilliant accomplishments you will continue to make!


  • Barb Peterson says:

    A husband of a friend recently sent me an email asking for people who would be willing to review his second book. If you would be interested in helping him, please email me, and I will forward his email. He self published his first book. Thanks for reading this comment. Barb


  • Anonymous. Guess who, mommy-liefie! says:

    Yay! You’ve stopped being mean to yourself, sort of. You better continue.


  • Susan Reynard says:

    Yes!!! This is brilliant. And your courage will give the rest of us self-doubters the guts to add a few more arrows to our quiver.


  • Karen says:

    Wow – what a brilliant read!! I read it, and then re-read it! I can relate to the self doubt and feelings of not being “good enough”. What I am still learning, is that it’s an ongoing process of self-acceptance and believing in yourself. Your words have inspired me to continue along my new path(s). Thank you Mandy!


  • I do believe we were separated as children. This post resonates with me. I applaud you!
    We are good at being “me”… and now we are getting old enough to learn to celebrate it!!
    I celebrate your step towards peace.
    Mandy, meet Mandy — a beautiful, talented, resilient, kind, gently-strong woman.


  • Cindy Erasmus says:

    HI sis Well what can i say, I have always been jealous of you as my eldest sister but in a good way. You are an amazing person with so many talents and if I could be half of what you are it would be an achievement. You are talented and good in those areas there is no doubt.. I am on the sideline with my pom poms in hand. Thank you for always teaching me life lessons through your writing.


  • The reason I follow you on Twitter, and sometimes butt in, and the reason I dig around in your blog, is because it is worthwhile and fun and full of human insights. You are good, and whilst also quite cheeky, you have a sort of modesty. Thanks for the stuff you do.
    I’m off to see what you did for Alec Hogg.


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