I’ve been thinking a lot recently about where I am in my life.
It was all sparked by an invitation to the 10 year university reunion and as I looked at the names and faces on the list I started to ponder, what have I done with my life. Not that this is an unusual feeling, not by any stretch, I imagine everyone regardless of their relative success has daily moments of this. I think it’s that we imagine what we thought we’d do and then compare it to what we have done and we focus on what’s missing rather than what is there.
Facebook isn’t helping this whole thing either, it’s sending me daily reminders of what I was doing 8 years ago and it’s a reminder firstly that I should have gotten my hair cut more regularly but also that the dreams I had, certainly in relation to my career, have not panned out how I imagined. That’s not to say that there haven’t been good moments, directing Gaffer and Floating, performing stand up (and most importantly meeting Lou) have been some of the best things to have happened.
But while there have been great moments I don’t seem to feel like I’m making progress with my work and creatively.
The directing opportunities have somewhat vanished – the chances to put on new shows after the success of the last one have dampened – most regularly I think by a lack of ambition or imagination in getting them off the ground which I find infuriating. But equally I’ve not been independent enough, I’ve not created enough work by myself, self financing or self producing enough work. Part of it is time, but part of it is something else.
I know from my playwriting that I got one bad review for a show 5 years ago and pretty much stopped writing. It was a brutal, harsh review written by someone who was clearly a bit of a prick, but it got right inside my head. Instead of moving on, getting on with the next show, the next idea, I just stopped, bitter that something hadn’t been handed to me. And why should it be?
With stand up I had a bad gig outside of Liverpool for a promoter I really respect (following someone who got a standing ovation) and couldn’t get my own inferiority out of my mind. There’s an extent to which I would never have won in that situation, and also an extent that the material needed tweaking. But what’s worse is that since then I’ve not applied for any gig with progression. Even though I suspect I’m a very competent MC, I’ve not made that jump and had the confidence to say I can do this.
I was looking for the cause of this and I think perhaps there is a huge element of fear holds me back in some situations. In work but also directing, playwrighting, comedy and storytelling. I have this fear of being shit and people knowing. Being found out as an imposter. Again not a new story, and one that, invariably everyone feels from time to time.
I appreciate that this all seems rather glum, and please, rest assured I’m not reaching for the gin bottle as I type this. Instead I wanted to talk, optimistically, about how I’m trying to get over it.
I made a graph. That’s it really. I’ve realised that what I struggle with (as much as the fear of failure) is an inability to see progress being made. When I’m writing something that’s 10,000 or 24,000 words long then 100, or 200 words can feel like such a small step, steps that you can’t really see build. So for two of the projects I’ve made a word count graph – so that I can see my targeted achievement against my actual. It’s geeky but (so far) it’s really worked in keeping me writing regularly on both projects.
I created an ideas board of things I’m working on and these are all things with defined dates to achieve them by. I’ve started having meetings with potential collaborators, and, importantly, I’m now focusing on projects that are not reliant on people in positions of power to approve or disapprove, they can all just happen because I want them to.
I realised that I don’t want to gig at weekend clubs, that’s not something I’m interested in (certainly not as anything other than MC) and that I can create comedy that is good, albeit not stand up in a different forum. So my storytelling will become my live performance outlet supplemented by MCing my gig in Liverpool, as will creating videos and podcasts. The stand up I want to do is storytelling and projection based (a la Will Adamsdale, Dan Bye and Dave Gorman) and relies more heavily on understanding of structure, plot and narrative as it does stand up – so feels possible for my skillset.
Finally I think I need to be braver. There are thousands and possibly millions of people who “have a book in them”, or “could do stand up” or “would love to act”, but ultimately that means jack shit unless you do. Equally, unless you do, unless you strive to do the things rather than talk about them then why should your opinion (and that is all it is) matter to me. Of course, the proof is in the action – check back here in 12 months to see if it’s worked or not I suppose.
And finally I have time.
I worry all the time about being left behind, not achieving what I want, or the placing of arbitary timelines on success. I wanted to be an Artistic Director by the time I was 30. That didn’t work out. But only the 30 bit. Ambitions are all achieveable but we have to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right knowledge and circumstances to achieve it.
Not everyone is a child prodigy, not everyone has made it by 30. Alan Rickman was 46 when he got his first major film, Ang Lee became a full-time director at 38, Samuel L Jackson’s breakout role was at the age of 43, Stan Lee created his first successful comic at 39 (Fantastic 4), Colonel Sanders was 62 when he first franchised KFC and Harry Berstein’s first book was published when he was 96.
See, I’ve got ages yet.