Home, Humour, Lifestyle, Mental Health

Confidence: what is it and how do I get some?

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I daydream about The Sound of Music an unhealthy amount.

I daydream about having a four octave range. I daydream about making clothes from curtains. I daydream about running up stone steps and climbing trees with a gang of siblings. (I’m not currently talking to either of my brothers as one of them bought they other one a ‘make your own felt soup dragon’ from The Clangers and didn’t get me one. And I can’t run up any steps without an inhaler. Also I’m an adult now.) I daydream about fucking over a group of Nazis by fiddling around with their car engine. I daydream about living in the mountains. I daydream about my life being a musical. I daydream about becoming a nun so I don’t have to decide what to wear every day and, also, you know, a place in heaven and an actual life plan.

There are more dreams and aspirations to take away from The Sound of Music than there are Nando’s order combinations, but it’s now, at the ripe old age of 28, as I embark on a new adventure called “freelance writer”, that I’m starting to think about maybe the biggest one of all. Confidence. That moment in the film where Maria has to find it in herself to do what she dreams of, to be brave, to stop doubting herself and to face her fears; to be confident.

Please allow me to pause briefly in my narrative, to contextualise the lyrics of Confidence in light of my new life as a freelance writer, so you get an idea of where I’m at right now, mentally and lyrically.

What will this day be like? I wonder.

(I open my laptop. Some melted chocolate is stuck under the “F7” key. I think about cleaning it but decide against it, for no particular reason.)

What will my future be? I wonder.

(One month into trying to write for a living, I’m googling that job at Edinburgh zoo I read about; the person who has to pick penguins up who keep falling over because of the planes flying in the sky above them.)

It could be so exciting to be out in the world, to be free

(If only I could actually bring myself to write something)

My heart should be wildly rejoicing

(OMG I get to be on SNL, what?)

Oh, what’s the matter with me?

(I genuinely have no idea how that could ever happen)

I’ve always longed for adventure

(By which I mean a Hogwarts letter…)

To do the things I’ve never dared

(By which I mean eat the hottest sauce at Nando’s, or, you know, actually put myself forward for something or say “I’m good. Pick me”)

Now here I’m facing adventure

(Freelancing)

Then why am I so scared?

(Rent to pay… wedding to organise… the fact my vagina went numb for two days, but that’s another story)

A captain with seven children

(By captain I mean biscuit tin, and by children I mean biscuits, and by seven I mean none, because I ate them all before lunchtime)

What’s so fearsome about that?

(Bloating, diabetes…)

Oh, I must stop these doubts, all these worries

(You’re telling me)

If I don’t I just know I’ll turn back

(Honestly, if this doesn’t work out, I’m happy to go back to any job I’ve had previously, except the one temping for an account who dribbled on me.)

I must dream of the things I am seeking

(To…be…a…writer…TO… BE… A… WRITER…)

I am seeking the courage I lack

(Seeking it in the fridge, in a yoghurt pot, because probiotics solve everything… right?)

You still with me? Good.

Confidence. Confidence. It’s a weird one. I think somewhere along the line I used to have it. I must have felt confident when I wrote my first pop song, at the age of eight, and performed it to my dad who, bless him, had to let me know it wasn’t appropriate to sing: “anytime, anywhere, you and I, well, I care lots, because when I’m with you we can make love.” Yes. You read that lack of scansion correctly. Lucky I’m not trying to be a freelance lyricist.

I also think, at times, I have it now. Or one kind at least. The courage to get up on stage and improvise in front of a paying crowd every week (although not enough to come off stage and stop myself from immediately apologising to my team mates for ruining the show). The kind that tells me it’s a good idea to write blogs and post them on the internet, not even anonymously (although not enough to feel crippled with fear and self-doubt the minute I hit publish). I will leave the house without make up, walk around in my underwear (obviously when appropriate, not at the dentist), happily talk to strangers.

But, that proper, deep-down self-belief, in who I am, and what I want to do with my life. That’s… harder for me to come to terms with, I’m realising. I had three back-to-back meetings the day I churned out this blog on a particularly uneventful train journey home, and kept wondering why I apologise in advance for everything I say and do. Why I don’t appear to have any belief in the ideas I’m presenting until someone else tells me they’re okay. Why I resort to jokes, or self-deprecation, when someone says something nice about me. For example:

“I like your hair.” “Thanks. I have a short stump at the back that you can’t see where it accidentally caught fire.”

“Your show was great.” “Thanks. I basically shat myself before I went on stage.”

We all do it. From time to time. Some more than others. I think. Women, especially.

“I like your dress.” “It was on sale, it would look better on you, it’s baggy around my waist/my nipples/my elbows.”

“You’re so good at this or that.” “No I’m not. Don’t be stupid. Why would you say that? No I’m not.

I cried a lot last week, turned into a bit of an anxiety wreck, and went to bed, because I lost track of a play I’m writing. I just couldn’t find a way out of it. And I ended up being so full of self-despair that I couldn’t look at my computer anymore. But when the loathing passed, I got a bit mad at myself. That I always see the worst in myself and the work I do. That I can’t seem to ever argue on my own behalf. That I have so little faith in myself. That I was drafting up an email telling the people who commissioned me that they should approach someone else.

It’s particularly tricky when you’re trying to publicise a show that you’ve written and that you’re also performing, as I was doing a month ago. I needed people to come and see it (like, in a box office guarantee way, you know) and, I guess, somewhere deep down, I did want people to see it too, but I also sort of didn’t, because it made me feel nauseous and vulnerable and exposed. So it’s a strange thing, going on social media and yelling, COME AND SEE MY PLAY, when there’s a giant part of you going, DON’T. DON’T DO IT. GO AND HAVE A DONUT INSTEAD. NOTHING BEATS A DONUT.

This isn’t who I want to be. I’m all for empowering women, lifting my sisters up with me, as someone cooler than me might phrase it, so why am I so bad at empowering myself? Where does it come from? Will I have my ‘Maria walking round the abbey walls’ moment where I suddenly start singing and believing in myself? Where will that epiphany take place? Tesco? The shower? The toilet on a South Eastern train? Should I just go to Austria? Is Austria where dreams are made?

For a little while now, it’s felt like this ‘thing’ I’m trying to do in life is just a game I’m playing. Like a strange version of The Sims with more croissants. I feel frequently that I’m having some kind of out of body experience, I’m watching myself, and laughing. Is it just me? I doubt it somehow.

I don’t have any answers. I’m genuinely curious to hear from people who’ve found it. Found that core, that nut of confidence that keeps them centered, that keeps them moving, that stops them from saying “sorry” or “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t” or questioning constantly, wasting time questioning, instead of spending time sensibly, at a donut shop, where only good decisions are made. It’s in me somewhere, I’m sure. If someone told me, “you’re not funny” I think I’d have a thing or two to say about that, but I probably wouldn’t actually say it, I’d probably just feel a thing or two, and then go home and eat some more yoghurt.

Obviously this is a largely millennial, first-world problem. I’m aware I may be coming across extremely vain and self-involved and I need to get over myself, do what I have to do, and then do something worthwhile, like volunteer in a community allotment, or rescue a dog, or argue against tampon tax more often. But hey, I’m flawed, extremely flawed actually, physically too; that numb vagina could come back at any minute. It’s a constant threat. In that, my friends, I am confident.

Education, Graduates, Lifestyle, Literature, London, Students, Uncategorized

Taking It Slow

Written for awesome new website Slow Streaming designed to help young people find their path in life. Original post: here.

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.