Friday 15 April 2016

That's Me In The Spotlight, Losing My Ambition

A few days ago I met up with an old beloved university friend, the boy that sat next to me the day I typed my first ever word of this blog over three years ago. I hadn't seen him in a long time, and even longer before that, as we'd both lived in different countries and met many faces since. 

We ate Vietnamese food and shared some beers, but after a while he looked me deep in the eye, with a crinkle of concern between his eyebrows, and said; "What's happened to you, Katie?"

Usually I'd protest vehemently with the ferocity of someone having their authenticity questioned, but I knew exactly what he was referring to without even having to ask, and I remained silent for a moment before shrugging and replying, "It's been a long time."

And then he looked at me in a way that made me mad, because he silently told me that the person I was before, was better. That to him, I had changed for the worse.

The next day I took the silent journey home, my head lolling against the window of the rickety train as it sped away from London. And it was only when I finally got home that I realised the precise thing he'd instantly recognised that I no longer had. A go-to phrase I'd once have immediately used to describe myself when asked, yet now could not be further away from my reality.

Fiercely ambitious.

I cannot think of any current reason why I would honestly define myself as being ambitious. For the first time in my life, I have removed that from my self-identifying lexicon. And I can't lie and pretend that doesn't seem like a really huge scary fucking thing right now.

I'm no stranger to the fact that I've felt incredibly lost with what I'm doing creatively for a number of months now. At a loss of a 'tribe' or creative community I've resumed the role of the lone navigator, painstakingly picking through the ice an inch at a time, hoping to god I'm somehow headed the right direction and clinging on to the dream I'll stumble across fresh tracks of another along the way. I've always felt like the outsider carving her own path through the universe. But I've only just realised there's so little fulfilment to be gained by going it alone. I've now put my foot through too many bear traps not to be scared of where I step.

Has my ambition truly been chased out of me? The girl who declared she would change the world, the girl who had such clearly defined goals and dreams and wouldn't settle for anything else than to get them? Or was I just a sweet naive girl hopped up on delayed teen rebellion and adrenaline when I'd said all that, so sweetly oblivious to how perplexing and hostile the real world is?

I've lost a lot of self-confidence and belief in the worth of my work since then, I know that much is true. But has the day come, that by no longer identifying as ambitious, I have actually signed off the seal that I tried and I failed? 

I have truly been plagued by these thoughts for a while now, and seem to go through weekly cycles of self-destruction and reconstruction, as you can probably tell. But the meeting with the old friend seems to have tipped me over the edge. And now I'm very afraid I've become the girl I always said I never would: The dream girl who lost sight of her future.

This morning I woke up, checked my emails, made some coffee and put on the TV, picking up some embroidery, the rhythmic needlework soothing my sore mind. I idly flicked through the channels and settled on the MTV Movie Awards to accompany my stitching - something moderately diverting yet not something I had to really pay attention to. As I tuned in, Halle Berry was presenting a lifetime achievement award to Will Smith and it made me pause, as I've always adored him. And then he gave a small speech, the end of which near stopped my heart and bought a lump to my throat. He concluded;

"I just want all of you to know that I am dedicated to being a light in this world. There's a lot of people who are suffering in this world, and when you see my material, and when I present myself in public, and when I'm with my friends and my family, I just want all you to know that I am dedicated in my life, to light, and to love. Thank you."

Something just clicked in me when I heard that, a current of familiarity which zipped through my quiet veins. At the root of everything I have ever done, I have always had the ambition to bring light into the world. I never stopped being ambitious. I just no longer seek the same flavour of ambition I once used to.

When I first began, when I first knew my friend, my ambition was to scream so loud nobody could help but hear me. To spin my years of being pushed aside into a big fuck you, now it's my time to speak, and I've got some shit to say. I wanted to be queen, to have people hear what I say and be in so much awe that they craved more. I wanted people to fuss over me, to want a piece of me,  to want to help me, to want to have me around. I wanted power, I wanted stature, I wanted influence, I wanted an audience, and although perhaps not for the sinister reasons it may seem, my ambition simply was to be heard and be noticed. I was that little kid who had built up so much rage and so much frustration that she'd reached that supernova-level of needing to do something about it, and after that detonation she was either going to come out the other side a superhero or a supervillain. And secretly now, looking back, I can't tell you for sure that I perhaps didn't become a bit of both.

My extraordinary levels of passion, ambition and determination stemmed from the fact that I'd been smited my whole life. And I'm going to say pretty much all of the things I achieved and the reason why a lot of my 'successes' felt so good because they were out of spite. Out of revenge. Look at me now I'd be screaming silently as my fingers typed a Facebook status about a new update. 

But that was the me 3 years ago. And while it was explosive and powerful, it wasn't stable, it wasn't healthy and it was not who I was. I'm not a spiteful person. And I know a lot of the resentment in me was never malice. I was just a little girl who was sick of being stepped on, so she grew some spines and did something about it. 

A lot has changed since then. I've grown up a hell of a lot, and my attitude toward my work and my goals has changed dramatically. For one, I've grown a hell of a lot of humility. I'm a lot calmer - that girl I once was got to prove her point - and I'm more balanced with my mental health. I've developed a quiet artistic introversion over the last few months which feels safe and comfortable and very much like me. I guess I've grown up.

And the flavour of my ambition now is not followers, a dazzling CV of achievements, trophies in a cabinet, increasing income streams or a growing collection of expensive treasures. My idea of success doesn't have clearly defined benchmarks or a tick list or something which can be measured in a graph. And I've been struggling so hard with feeling like a failure or feeling unsuccessful because this is the first time this has ever been the case.

I no longer strive solely for academic, professional or financial success, but that sure as hell doesn't mean I don't still have the ambition to make my life as remarkable and beautiful and rich as it possibly can be. Everyday I am fuelled by the drive to create, explore, learn and embrace. My goals aren't to earn bigger and bigger paychecks to get richer, but to earn enough money so I can blow it instantly on things that will enhance my life experiences - whether that be on travelling, books, a new musical instrument or even just a gig ticket.  

Right now, I'm in the infancy of a new era of my creative development, and that is perhaps now more scary than exciting, and I'll be the first to admit it. And sometimes it can be really difficult to distinguish between evolving into something new, and losing track of who you've always been before. And who would've thought it would be Will Smith and the MTV Movie Awards who would make me realise that?

So this is me now, picking my way through the ice inch by inch again, like I did at the start. But now I'm not powered by a negative positivity which gives a powerful headstart but burns out fast. I'm taking it slow, day by day working what I need to do next, and where this dark and stormy path is going to lead me. And I'm learning to not be afraid to ask for help, because I know I can't do this alone. 

So I'm holding up my horn and bellowing a siren call into the wilderness: I need a mentor. I need some creative guidance with my writing, even just some advice from someone in publishing or journalism about where I should be focusing my efforts. All I aim to do in life is to be someone now, that I really needed when I was younger. And now I seek the same for the me of now. So if you're out there, you for some reason believe that I'm worth it and you have even the smallest breadcrumb of advice as to where I can begin doing with my writing, then I'm here to hear, and I'm ready to learn.

But that's for the future. For now, there's only one thing I need to remind myself, and perhaps those who've known me for a long time, and are wondering what's up:

I never lost my ambition. My idea of success just became less high maintenance.