I feel as though this post should come with a bit of a warning. It’s about 90% word dump and 10% structure. I’m not really sure what the topic is, or what the theme is, or what I hope to achieve with writing it other than sharing a little more of my story with you. I began to write about my recently renewed sense of self-belief and confidence in my own future but it prompted me to reflect on what caused me to lose it in the first place.
Recently something is happening, and it feels a little bit strange. I’ve started to believe in myself. Really, truly have faith in my own abilities and in the talents that make me special ~ because we are all special. For a while now I’ve felt a little bit at a loss, unsure of what it is that I actually want to do with my life or why I really even need to choose. Once upon a time I was a very confident little girl with big plans. They weren’t dreams, that implies there was something fantasy about then. I was going to ‘be’ anything I wanted to be. An actress, an author, a lawyer. Then I grew up and the older I got the more I started to doubt myself, to size up the competition in a way that made me feel three inches tall. It was more than just a fear of the process though, I knew deep down it wasn’t really the path I wanted to tread but that’s difficult to say aloud when you’re already half way down the road.
Being creative and academic is both a gift and a curse. I’m not going to sit here and whine about being multi-talented (because I am, and I am not afraid to own that any more) but sometimes I have thought about about how much simpler life may be if I wasn’t expected to be such a higher achiever. I know, boo hoo. I was – and am – incredibly lucky because I come from a family who I know would support me whether I chose to be a rocket scientist, or an artist, or a stay at home mum. That’s because each of those roles have their equal importance in the world and getting higher grades does not make anyone more entitled or more worthy. It does, however, open a lot of doors. And sometimes when there are lots of doors open you don’t quite know which to shut and which to leap through.
A sense of uncertainty about my own future probably began when I was 17 or 18. I was at a point in my life where everyone began asking what exactly it was I was planning on doing with it. Simultaneously, I was struggling with being bullied (more on that later) and with my earliest experiences of depression and anxiety (and that – it’s all fun and games over here!). Which came first, I don’t know.
By around the age of 15 I’d decided that I was going to be a barrister and I chose my A-Levels accordingly, spending my summer holidays shadowing Silks. I’d applied to read English with a view to taking a conversion course later because that’s what some guy in a wig earning a lot of money had told me to do. I wrote a witty personal statement comparing 50 Shades to the Marquis de Sade and interviewed at a Cambridge but even then something didn’t feel totally right about it all. Eventually I accepted a place at Bristol but didn’t quite make the cut come results day – missing my offer was a blessing in disguise.
I moved to London, which is where I had always intended to settle, and got a – albeit very mundane – job. I reapplied to the LSE to study Law and Anthropology and was genuinely elated when I got an unconditional offer and an academic scholarship. I had all these ideas about how university would be the best years of my life where I would make a group of forever friends and head into a sparkling career. Honestly, I hated it from day 1. After working fifty hours a week I struggled with the lack of structure and I missed having a salary rather than a student loan. I’d always been somewhere at the top of my class and then suddenly I was surrounded by thousands of incredibly intelligent people and I felt a bit like I’d been put among them by accident. My whole life I’d been racking up academic accolades and yet my own self-worth plummeted – if I’m not the ‘clever one’, then who am I? By the time November crept round I was on a strong dose of Prozac and barely meeting the bare minimum attendance.
I don’t blame that all on uni – my body has never particularly liked Winter, as other SAD sufferers will understand – but I do think the complete sense of loss and hopelessness I felt partly came from feeling as though I’d made a big fat mistake. I realised that I was clinging on to a plan that 15 year old Beth had conjured up whilst feeling like a totally different person and I was embarrassed to admit that I’d got it all wrong and actually I had no idea what I wanted to do. It also felt too late to change my mind, and to an extent it was. I knew that I was really missing creativity from my life – art is something I always go to when I’m feeling low – and I got as far as being invited to interview at Central Saint Martins before I realised I’d have to stick it out at LSE. Dropping out would have meant at least £8K of debt after the first term alone and I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do anyway.
I persevered and whilst I will never look back on my first year with any sense of fondness I am proud that I saw it through – the good grades I somehow achieved were just a bonus. Come second year, I made promises to myself that I’d make the most of it and learn to love it but they were fairly empty ones. At the end of the first term of second year I started my blog and it was only then that I really felt motivated to get up in the morning. At university I felt incredibly lonely and as though I didn’t fit in, but I’d found an online community where I could connect with people who seemed to ‘get’ me, and have since become offline friends.
I owe a lot to this little site – and to all of you who read it – because it’s where I finally felt like I had a place and a clear purpose. I could cope with uni because I had something much better to distract myself with. I let vac schemes and training contract deadlines slip past and although I felt a sense of panic this Summer when the Facebook updates from my cohort began to roll in detailing the graduate positions they’d secured, it only pushed me harder.
I’m only a few weeks away from beginning my final year and although I’m under no pretence that it’s all going to be sunshine and rainbows I do feel as though I’ve got a sense of strength that I couldn’t find before.
I don’t quite know where I will end up but I feel at peace with that now – choosing wonder over fear. I feel fulfilled by the level of creativity in my life, but also by the tasks that keep my brain wired at a million miles an hour on a day to day basis. I’ve began to set my alarm earlier and earlier because I want to get up in the morning. I get to be my own accountant, my own lawyer, my own editor and fundamentally my own boss. I feel a real sense of calm at knowing that deep down I have the confidence to run with the endless possibilities and do what makes my soul happy. I’ve started to say to myself ‘Actually, I can. And I will.’ and this time I believe it too.