OK, I’ll admit it. This is my first article. It’s not the first article I’ve written, but it is the first article I’ve sent to a publication. Why? Because I have spent years giving in to the worst form of procrastination; I revere the peer.
Ask yourself this. How many times in your life – and I don’t just mean your writing career, I mean every aspect of your life – have you looked at something someone else has done and allowed it to stop you in your tracks?
I have many skills. I work as an accountant, I have a photography qualification and I teach canoeing among other ‘talents’. My big failing in all of those skills has been my fantastic ability to revere the peer.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting for one moment that you shouldn’t respect your peers, admire them or even aspire to achieve what they have. Just be sure that you don’t hold them in such high esteem that you fail to recognise your own skills.
Let me tell you my story.
I have been writing for most of my life. I was never shy about people I knew reading my work and I always received positive feedback. I even had people asking me when I would write a novel. The problem was I didn’t believe them! Whenever I read or heard someone else’s work I heard their voice and mine was always drowned out – at least to me. It never occurred to me that my voice was different, or that it was actually individual enough to stand out from the crowd. In my head the other writer was standing on a podium at the front and I was shouting from the back, unheard and even feeling guilty for interrupting.
Now I am studying for an Environmental Studies degree. I have taken a difficult route to do it, because I earn a good salary and can’t afford to give up work. To build up some experience I have had to network at every possible opportunity and swallow my pride, bottle my lack of confidence and get my face out into the world of experienced conservationists. Luckily they are mainly a friendly bunch and most are willing to help.
I joined a huge variety of different groups, grasping at every learning opportunity always assuming that they all knew everything that I didn’t. I asked one particularly supportive helpful friend to act as a mentor which, as it turned out, was the best thing I ever did. He changed my entire outlook on life simply because he pointed out that he didn’t know everything, he just knew different things to the things I did.
Wow! What a revelation! Of course it now seems blindingly obvious, and just that one piece of inspiration broke me free from the chains of awe that kept me on the ground always looking up at the peers that I had up on pedestals.
Since that day I have stepped out into the world with new confidence, I view myself with different eyes. I realise now that in actual fact, I have something to offer the world – the results of my own experiences. It is the sum of those experiences, every little moment that I have seen, every seemingly insignificant thing that I have done that gives me my voice. Suddenly I feel as if I have been given a microphone, with amps turned up to 11 and I fully intend to use it!
I’m currently waiting to hear back from a magazine on my first short story submission, and I am six chapters into my first novel. As well as these I have book ideas to fill a bookcase and the confidence to start getting them on paper. I’m setting aside the notion that someone else will have the same ideas and do it better; actually, they will just do it differently.
The simple reality is that each of your peers, and mine, have reached the place that they are at through a series of experiences and decisions. This is what makes us unique. Faced with all the same options, each person would have made different choices and ended up in an entirely different place.
You should also consider this: every time you stand in awe of someone, you may have failed to notice someone else standing in awe of you.
I have had many occasions in my life when I have been told that I am admired for all my achievements. There have even been individuals that were inspired by my actions. There is no greater compliment, and naturally, we all like the warm feeling of knowing that we can have that effect on another person but the main point that I would always make to anyone that ever tried to hold me up on a pedestal is this:
Imagine you are there, balancing up high; what a scary place that would be, always in fear of falling off. I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable with that kind of pressure.
I also know that I’m tired of having a sore neck from always looking upwards. If I want to better myself, reverence won’t do it. Respect, inspiration and admiration will help me to recognise the aspects that I could take on board, but only looking at myself and using what I’ve learnt from others can ever take me forward on the journey that is, after all, my own.
Sandra Norval is in the process of changing her career. Currently working as an accountant she is in the final year of an Environmental Studies degree, which she hopes to use to move into conservation. She is also writing articles, short stories and her first novel, all with a foundation in the natural world. Her website is www.sandranorval.co.uk.