Today is an unusual day.
There have been many unusual days on this journey of Goats and Sheep. Days I’ve stared into space and wondered if this was all really happening – the day I signed with my wonderful agent, the day my publishing deal was in The Bookseller, the day I saw my novel on the Waterstones’ website. Today, however, is the most unusual of unusual days. Today, I’m in The Observer, staring back from the page as one of their ‘new voices in fiction’.
Have a look here, if you’d like to read it.
Every year, I watched out for this article, and each time they announced their choices, I would read the writers’ interviews and the synopses of the books they’d written, and I would think, ‘I could never be chosen for something like that. I’m not interesting like they are, or clever, or talented. I’m not good enough.’
And yet this year, here I am. Being good enough.
It’s a safe and comfortable corridor to walk, believing you’re not good enough. Its walls protect you from setbacks and disappointment. It very cleverly shields you from criticism and failure. Of all the things in life we could be worried about, we choose failure as our biggest fear. This is our nemesis. The demon that charges at us from the middle of the room. But it’s actually the failure to try that we should be most afraid of. This is the real monster, the one that hides under your bed. The one that will find you in years to come.
It’s not easy, stepping out of that safe corridor. If you read my biography, it will tell you that I left school with one O-level, went back to college in my thirties, and took a medical degree. It won’t tell you that I had a five-hour commute every day, that I was constantly filled with appalling self-doubt, and that between lectures, I often had to choose between a packet of crisps and a cup of tea, because I couldn’t afford both. My biography will also tell you that I wrote a book. It won’t tell you I had to get up at 3am each day to write that book, before I went to work. It won’t tell of the times I nearly threw in the towel. It certainly won’t tell you about all the people who gave “you poor, deluded fool” looks, when I told them I liked writing (so much so, I stopped admitting it to people, because I felt too ashamed). Hopefully, though, if you read between the lines, it will tell you that I stopped believing I wasn’t good enough. It will tell you I didn’t fail to try. I tackled the monster under the bed.
However, this isn’t a home-spun, Athena-poster style blog entry. Of course limits exist in places other than our minds. In medicine, when we’re looking at how likely someone is to get a disease, we split the risks into modifiable and unmodifiable. Your unmodifiable factors are your age, whether you were born male or female, what hand of cards genetics might have dealt you. Your modifiable factors, however, can be changed – whether you smoke, drink, how much you weigh. How much you enjoy hurtling down life’s fast lane at 100mph. When we’re choosing to tackle something, there will always be unmodifiable factors – time, money, responsibilities, jobs, mortgages, life. But believing you’re not good enough is definitely modifiable. That’s a factor you can start modifying right now.
So whatever it is you want to do, whether you want to write a book or go back to university, start a blog, learn a language, run a marathon – or whether, like I have, you look at a newspaper article and believe you’re not good enough, the most valuable thing you can do, is start telling yourself that yes, actually, you are. YES YOU ARE.
Forget the monster in the middle of the room, that one’s all talk. Failing to try is the real danger. And if you don’t deal with it, it’s the monster under the bed that will get you in the end.