* This is a guest post by William Gallagher *
If you phoned five friends and said you’re moving to New York to be a graffiti artist what would happen?
Hopefully at least one of your friends will be excited for you, but you know that at least four, probably all five, will try to talk you out of it.
They’re looking out for you, they care for you. But there’s a part of them, too, that reckons New York is a long away and they’ll never see you again. You can’t object to that, that’s lovely.
However there’s another piece to the puzzle: they don’t see you that way. You’re not the one who goes to New York, you’re not the artist. Not in their eyes.
So you can’t take their advice. You just can’t. If you did, you’d never do anything other than what you are doing now.
This happened when I was offered work as features editor on a magazine in London. Family and friends said I shouldn’t and they were right: it was a big move, lots of expense, I had no experience.
This is not a fairy tale story: I was the worst features editor they ever had. But I became the best one they ever had. So much so that when I wanted to risk going freelance and working for the BBC, it was friends on the magazine who were saying no, don’t do it (yes, this cycle will continue no matter where you get to).
I chose to move anyway and I got to work in news and drama. I still do. Those decisions are how I got to today and my perfect job where I work for myself writing books and Doctor Who radio plays for a living.
Now my family and friends see me as a writer, though I’m trying their patience by leaping off into a new public speaking career. This time they’re more willing to encourage me… but ultimately you are on your own.
Let’s be reasonable: if you jump off and become that graffiti artist in New York, will you end with a fairy tale and riches? Or do they have a point?
They do have a point. They always have a point, that’s one reason why negative advice is so powerful, so paralysing. Back then, when I was being “brave”, I had no one depending on me except for myself. Now I need to earn a certain amount to provide for my family. Does that mean I’ve stopped moving, stopped taking jumps? No.
Since then, I have learnt that it pays to jump but I’ve learnt to jump shorter distances now that I have more responsibilities. I’m taking smaller risks but I do many more of them, more often (you need the same amount of bravery for small jumps as for large ones. That’s especially true for the first one or if you only rarely take a risk).
The small jumps are what keep me going, stops me talking myself out of things and yet it ultimately has the same effect. The work I do today is nothing like the work I did three or four years ago: and that “certain amount” I need to earn now comes from ventures that were risks at the time.
The other difference to when I took my original jumps is that I have found someone who has never constrained me, never seen me as just one thing, and marrying her was life changing. (You can’t have her, she’s mine, hopefully forever, stop putting ideas in her head). I’m not so on my own now and I’ve got good at understanding what’s a valid concern vs what is wanting the familiar and the safe.
But I remember what it is like to be the only one who thinks you can do this.
Being the only one who thinks maybe you can do this is hard. It’s a horrible place to be because you also always have a bit of your friends in your soul: we all find reasons to stay where we are and we are all prone to falling for the perfect rosy answer.
It’s a horrible place but it is an exciting one and it’s somewhere only you can be. What I’ve got especially good at is looking for people who are doing what I want to do.
Find who is doing what you want and then soak up all you can from them. Their encouragement may balance out the discouragement you’re used to – but they’re also speaking from experience where your friends and family are not.
Find what you want to do, find the people who are doing it, then do it yourself.
And send a postcard home.
William Gallagher is a Doctor Who radio writer for the BBC, and has had over a million words published in newspapers and magazines. He has also written about task management software, project management + getting things done). His recent book, The Blank Screen shows you how to make the very most from your limited time, and fill that blank screen with your writing (available in the UK and USA/internationally).
Time to stop doing it alone? Heck yes.
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