When I was 17, an anonymous careers lady came to my school and asked each of us, in turn, what we wanted to be when we left school.
“A journalist,” I said, with an image in my head of writing for National Geographic, travelling the world with a camera (which at that time, I didn’t have) and notebook, meeting fascinating people from different cultures, and writing about them for a home audience.
“Oh no,” the careers lady replied. “That’s far too competitive. Choose something else.”
I don’t quite know what image was playing in her head when I mentioned the word “journalist”. Obviously not the same as mine. Perhaps she imagined some tired, crumpled hack working for one of the more sordid daily papers. She had probably watched too many films featuring the dirty tricks played by unscrupulous newspaper men (and women, no doubt), intent on getting a story at any cost.
Obviously this image would not have been congruent with what was expected of a former pupil of one of the finest grammar schools in the country. So, in one sentence, my dreams of a future in print were dashed.
Now, you might be thinking: why did I pay attention to what this total stranger said to me? Why didn’t I simply pursue my dream in spite of her comments? I know that’s what some would do.
The thing is, I was brought up to obey people in positions of assumed authority, including teachers, policemen and the lollipop lady. I can remember attending a class at a local technical college, as part of my General Studies course in the sixth form, and being confronted by one of the tutors, a former member of the Criminal Investigation Department who tried to instil some level of rebelliousness in us.
“You’re all stupid, aren’t you?” he would taunt, expecting us to leap to our own defence and hotly deny his accusation. Instead, we all replied in unison: “Yes, sir.”
We had been programmed not to disagree – or at least, not publicly. We were being groomed to attend further education establishments (Oxford or Cambridge, ideally, or a “red-brick” university, or – for the less gifted – teacher training college), rather than to get jobs or become housewives. However, we were not encouraged to think for ourselves. Hardly good training for a life in the “real” world. (By the way – I didn’t do any of the above – my final act of rebellion!)
30 Day Writing Challenge
I was reading an article recently, by Dan Johnson, about how we are forced to make long-reaching career decisions as teenagers, when we start narrowing our field of study – and it got me thinking again about the visit by the careers lady. Which, in turn, got me thinking about writing.
For years, after my corporate IT job had been made redundant – and I had chosen self-employment rather than going back to a corporate job – if someone asked me the question: “What would you do, if you didn’t have to worry about the money?” my answer would always be: “Write.” And yet I wasn’t writing.
I’m still not writing on a regular basis, and I’ve realised that writing – communicating and connecting – is an essential part of who I am. An essential part of my natural excellence. So I’ve set myself a writing challenge. I’m going to write a blog post every day for 30 days.
Why 30 days? Because it generally takes that long to by-pass old conditioning and install a new pattern of behaviour. So by committing to write daily for 30 days, hopefully, writing will become a habit.
My 30 day challenge runs from Monday 11th June 2012 until Tuesday 10th July 2012. I’ll be posting more details about the challenge tomorrow.
If you’d like to follow my progress, and help to hold me accountable to my promise to write every day, you can follow my progress on Facebook and Twitter #30DWC.