I’m not someone who usually believes in synchronicity. Things just happen, one after the other, and any apparent connections are just ones that we want to make. But a few things popped into my life this week that felt a bit more portentous than usual.
The first was this article about how ambition and drive for excellence is not all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve been struggling with these ideas for a while. Once I clambered onto the career ladder at a rather late twenty-six, I scaled it quickly. All the way to Head of English by the age of thirty-two. I’d found something I was good at and there was only one way to go. I had to aim higher, do better, and get to the top of the ladder.
Only somewhere along the line I realised that I didn’t want that. Not that I experienced it in such a flash of insight. All I knew is that I was miserable and knackered and that the thought of trudging along for the next thirty years doing the same thing felt impossible.
So I did the bold thing of dropping out of my career and taking a Masters in Creative Writing. I worked in schools for paternity leave, sick leave or as a cover teacher (never again). After that I only went back part time. I did various private tutoring gigs to keep the money coming in. And it was weird. I used to be in charge. I used to tell other people what to do. Now, I was ‘just’ a teacher. And a part-time slacker at that. Not even because I had kids! It was incredibly hard to own the fact that I just wanted to write as well, even if it was making me zero money.
The second thing was a book that I ordered. It dropped through my door the other day and I read the first couple of pieces. Inspire: Exciting Ways of Teaching Creative Writing, was something I wanted to read to help me with my workshops, creative writing courses and community writing project. I didn’t realise it would give me a bit of insight into why I’ve ended up where I am.
It’s mostly a collection of pieces written by people studying for their MA in Creative Writing and Education (something I didn’t know existed). I read bout how the editors had worked to create workshops for charities and refugees and supported young people in writing festivals. I read the piece by Gaar Adams where he talks about the importance of looking beyond the personal for writing and to encourage writers to root their work in the social and political contexts that are relevant to them.
I realised that, unwittingly, this was what I was doing. I’ve created a project that helps young underrepresented writers find their voice in their writing. I run workshops to help people achieve their creative goals. I’m planning a writing course that focuses on finding the things that are most important to you to engage your unique writing voice. Although the plan was to find other ways to make a living alongside writing my own stuff, I realised that everything I’d planned had a similar thread running through it.
And it’s not a high-flying career. I’ve watched my closest friend follow the career trajectory I thought I wanted. At first it was uncomfortable. I’m older than her, shouldn’t I be reaching those milestones earlier than she is? But then, that assumes that life is some sort of race with certain ‘achievements’ you have to have made by a certain age.
So now I think I have a clearer idea of what I want my life to look like. It won’t be glamorous or well-paid, but it will unite the passions I have and hopefully still allow me to enrich the lives of others, only outside a classroom.
Maybe, just maybe, an ordinary life is what I’m looking for.
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