Sometimes the world is going so fast I fall over.
Sometimes I fall over because none of my shoes fit. Or because I walk past Alan Rickman in the street, do a double take and hit a lamppost.
Sometimes I fall over because I don’t look where I’m going.
Where am I going? Do I have to look? Am I really falling?
I finished university three years ago. It requires a quick slug of wine to numb the pain of that realisation. Time moves fast.
I’m used to moving fast. I’m tall, so I have long legs. I’m a redhead – if you didn’t move fast you got bullied. I work best under pressure. I’ve been told I am a ridiculously fast typist. I’m a fast learner. I eat fast. I break fast. I’m enthusiastic to the point of hyper-activity and a little impatient.
I have a first-class English degree from a redbrick university and work in the arts. I was never heading down the gleaming mainstream, corporate, fast track path to a perfect career but that doesn’t mean I’ve never been caught up in the race to succeed.
I went to university knowing I wanted to work in theatre in some capacity, spent three years taking advantage of finally living in London, interning to excess, and coming out on the other side, surprise surprise, working in theatre. This blog is potentially a little niche because I’ve known for most of my life that I wanted a career in the arts and my experiences after graduating are definitely set in that world. But the values I have discovered on my route and the lessons I have learned so far are universal and hopefully insightful.
For a while I seemed to be living every intern’s dream of a ‘happy ending.’ The volunteering had paid off and the day after handing in my dissertation I started working in production for a play in the West End. It seemed positively delicious timing. For around two years I was very happy working my socks off on as many different projects as possible and felt grateful to be earning some kind of income doing what I love. I definitely recommend working for free if you have a student loan as a safety net – it’s something I miss now I’m paying council tax and trying to keep up with my friends in the real world who can afford nice wine and underwear that fits. Interning set up invaluable relationships with working professionals and provided me with an insight into multiple aspects of the world I wanted to enter.
It took a long time after graduating, however, for me to learn to value my skills enough to eventually say ‘no’ to working for little or no money. It’s a difficult one in the arts because there’s rarely enough money to begin with, but it’s also a world of exploitation and I struggled to find a way out to identify what I really wanted, and needed. I had forgotten my own values – or they had shifted. There came a point where it just wasn’t possible for me to get by. I was way more tired than I should have been at 23 and couldn’t afford to be in my overdraft anymore. The realisation of having to take a step back and re-examine different areas of my life sent me into a bit of a panic. I had lost my way.
Eight months ago I made the conscious decision to slow the hell down and start again.
I left full-time work and focussed on rediscovering the things that are important to me. I feel so much better now, despite still being deep in the throws of figuring out what my life is all about. Things have happened in the last year that definitely act as a reminder to me now that life is simply too short to let it pass me by in a blur. People are important to me. I want time to be with them. Down time is important to me: the anxiety that accompanies over-working and lack of routine just isn’t worth it. I care about the world we live in and don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t. Money is important to me in the sense that I want to earn more than just enough to “get by” but I have no aspirations to be rich. I simply have to love my job and aspire to earn a living doing something I am passionate about and that makes a difference in some way. I have to be unafraid of that challenge because I don’t see it any other way.
The other day, my granddad, rooted in the ideologies of the business world, metaphorically kneed me in the balls when he accused me of wasting the last four years. It was definitely the vocal equivalent of walking into a lamp post. It hurt. It also reminded me that people outside the creative world may always have very little idea of what it means to pursue your dreams because it’s the only life you want to live. But that’s ok.
In the past few months on my journey down the slow stream I’ve produced a show in Australia and witnessed the director of Jurassic World identify dinosaur roars. It’s not about lack of achievement – it’s about having the time and clarity to identify where you fit in this crazy world and what will make you happy. It’s about accepting that at times in life you will trip and fall over. But the slow stream can set you on your way again with a life jacket full of values on your back and a map in the right direction. So you don’t get swept away in the tide.