Why I Started Writing Again
When my parents asked me what I wanted for my 21st birthday, I knew I wanted something that was meaningful rather than expensive. I would be happy with meaningful AND expensive, but I wanted something that I would look at fondly in years to come.
Having learned to enjoy writing in school and when I studied performing arts at university, I had recently been writing theatre reviews for the local paper and was already a short way into my postgraduate journalism studies. This would would lead me to become a professional journalist, so it made sense to ask my parents for a pen. A fancy fountain pen that felt nice to hold and that moved smoothly across the paper, making my handwriting look neat and swirly with its green ink.
21 years later, I still write with that pen when an idea in my head needs to be let out. And 21 years later it still makes my handwriting look nice and grown-up and swirly, and it feels nice in my hand.
I had always enjoyed creating – taking ideas in my head and turning them into real things in the real world. That’s why I studied theatre, which lead me to journalism, and which would eventually lead me to photography.
I was a journalist for about eight years, and I was good at it. I worked on magazines in London, and then went on to become an associate editor of a magazine in New York, not long after the attacks on the twin towers. It was a cool gig, for sure, and being an Englishman in New York was every bit as awesome as Sting and Quentin Crisp had suggested.
A few years later, though, I found myself back in the UK and things were no longer awesome. I was working for an agency that produced internal magazines for utilities companies, and my boss was a bully. Everybody in the company – even her boss – was terrified of her, and she wore her lack of compassion, her narcissism and her sociopathy like a badge of honour. She was a very broken human being.
I stuck it out for as long as I could, through the death of my father (for which she showed no sympathy), through the departure of many of my colleagues (talented, decent people) and through thoughts of suicide (it was one way out of the nightmare, I suppose). Eventually, I could deal with it no longer and after one particularly unpleasant run-in, I announced my resignation.
I was done with her, I was done with writing, I was off to do something else. She had stolen my love of the written word from me, but the taste it left in my mouth was so bitter she was welcome to it. She no longer had any power over me, and off I rode into the sunset to take photos, and indulge my creativity once again. On my terms, without anyone breathing down my neck whose idea of leadership was all stick and no carrot.
But I was scarred. It wasn’t entirely her fault, but I had spent my whole life trying to please other people. People like her. People I assumed had power over me – the bank manager, the man in uniform, anyone taller, bigger, more confident than me, more capable of handling life than me, and in front of whom I had to subjugate myself in order to keep the world happy and avoid any kind of conflict or stress. I had spent my life trying to keep everyone happy, to do what I was told, follow the rules, keep my head down, work hard, don’t rock the boat, the meek shall inherit the earth and so on.
But when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no-one. I was so busy trying to keep other people happy, to do what I thought I was supposed to do, that I lost sight of what I wanted. Life was something that just happened to me – I wasn’t an active participant in it, and instead I was waiting for my turn, despite the deep, unacknowledged belief that my turn would never come. I had no goals, nothing to work towards, my confidence was in tatters and I had to outsource all my decision making to others as I no longer felt empowered to make any decisions myself. And that meant absolutely any decisions. What to eat for dinner, what to watch on television. I was completely disempowered and I was a drain and a burden upon those around me.
Anxiety and depression and a deeply negative outlook on life became entrenched in my personality. I was bitter that I’d been dealt such a lousy hand and I resented anyone who seemed to be getting what they wanted out of life. I was jealous of people who seemed happy, content, well rewarded. I had just as much to offer as these people, how come they were doing so well and I wasn’t?
My real world results began to reflect this outlook, and soon enough I was having to prop myself up with a part-time job as a carer working with disabled people. In fact, this turned out to be one of the most fulfilling roles I’ve ever undertaken, but that’s a story for another time. A few years later and I was working shifts as a grocery delivery driver, as my bitterness, resentment and dark thoughts grew stronger than ever before, and my results reflected my lack of confidence, my low self-esteem, my inability to steer myself in any direction other than downwards.
I had done everything I was supposed to do. I had done everything they told me to do. I had followed the rules, and here I was. Why was the world being so unfair?
But then someone close to me told me “thoughts aren’t facts” and it was a game changer. I didn’t understand for a while, but eventually I started to realise that the thoughts that were constantly screaming through my head, undermining me, disempowering me, challenging my every decision, were not part of me and not part of my identity, as I had presumed for all these years. And through the practice of meditation – albeit as an amateur – I was able to step aside from them and observe them as a separate entity. Those thoughts, the ideas, the undermining notions that I wasn’t good enough, that I was subject to everyone else wishes, that I had to do what I was told, what I was supposed to do, that life was too complicated for me, those thoughts weren’t part of me, and I didn’t have to listen to what they were saying.
For the first time I considered the possibility that maybe the world outside didn’t have the answers that I was looking for, but perhaps it was my internal paradigms and programming that were the problem. And I began a journey of reinvention, of exploring who I was and who I could be.
I actively started looking for the positive in situations, and within a short time, I started seeing beauty everywhere. Even tiny, mundane things – a warm floor beneath my bare feet, the clever design of Scandinavian kitchenware, the smell of coffee – began to bring me pleasure.
I actively started to make decisions – small ones at first, like what meal to have, what to do at the weekend, always positive, always beneficial. I started to change my thought processes – I made an effort to stop complaining, and before long I found that I had little to complain about. I made an effort to stop judging people, and my compassion and love for my fellow humans grew almost before my eyes.
I was dumbfounded by how beneficial these actions were being to my life in such a short time. I realised how rich my life was, how I wanted for nothing, and how love and beauty are everywhere if you are just prepared to look.
Humans have a tendency to seek out and fixate on the negative – in psychology they call this rumination. But I decided to do the opposite and fixate of the positive. My real-world results began to reflect this change in perspective, and before long I wasn’t just starting to see things differently, but my life was very different.
I went from renting a house with a leaky roof, driving a tiny car that had been most generously gifted to me by a friend, and from working through the nights as a van driver, to owning a house of my own in the country, driving a car I’d always wanted, and working in a cool job in the marketing and communication sector. All this in just a few months, and all because I changed my internal dialogue, and learned to release my negative programming. By letting go, I received so much.
The transformation in my life was profound and I felt the urge to share it – it was to important to keep to myself. I’d already started jotting down notes for a book on my smartphone during my breaks in the delivery van. But to start properly writing, that was a fresh hurdle. My love of writing had been stolen from me by my sociopath boss years earlier. I hadn’t written anything, not properly, in nearly a decade.
And then I remembered a parable I’d heard about two prisoners of war who, years after their release, meet up to share stories. One asks the other: “Have you forgiven our captors for the terrible things they did to us?”
The other replies: “After what they did, after the torture, the incarceration, and the horror, I could never forgive them.”
And the first replies: “Then you are still their prisoner.”
I wasn’t prepared to allow a bad experience to own that part of me any longer. I wasn’t prepared to let one horrible person steal something that was rightfully mine. So I took it back and set about writing. I wrote a book about my experiences, I write a column about being a father for a parenting magazine, I write this blog, I write absolutely anything I want, and it feels liberating and refreshing. But mainly I write about being compassionate, being the best we can be, about celebrating each other, and about being positive and living a life fill with joy and contentment. And I believe, if we were all to adopt this philosophy, we could change the world for the better.
Ok, it’s a bit extra. Sometimes I feel a little silly – like some sort of hippy – sharing words about loving each other, and opening our arms to our brothers and sisters around the world, of not giving in to our fears and recognising ourselves in every other human. But we have one life on this tiny planet, we can either try to keep our heads down, fit in and disappear, or we can try to shine and hope that we can encourage everyone else to shine, too.
We have so much to offer and to share, and this world is so beautiful if we can just figure out how to look at it. We should all be a bit extra, because that’s how we become extraordinary, and we should be in the streets singing and dancing and celebrating each other and the short time we have to make the most of what we’ve got.
And we’ve all got so much. Enough to share.