I have been working my way up to this point now for years – quite literally. Two years ago, I purchased a domain name, taught myself to stumble through WordPress, and carefully crafted an ‘About’ page that (I hoped) struck the desired balance between ‘serious writer’ and ‘girl you’d chat shit with over some hard liquor’, whatever that’s supposed to be. I wrote and painstakingly edited my first post. I even created Twitter and Instagram accounts, intended to stand hand-in-hand with my blog. I envisaged some sort of ‘brand’ (I am unashamedly wanky), curated just-so to portray exactly the things I selected and nothing more. And then? Then, dear reader, I erased the lot.
I certainly won’t be the first person to fight a losing battle with perfectionism, nor the first whose chase of perfection more accurately represents a deep-seated neuroticism than a kooky and dismissible quirk. I am deterred by the possibility of not being good enough. Further than that, I am paralysed by the idea that I might be a source of ridicule, or worse – pity. The fear of painful consequences has halted me on so many occasions, because putting myself out there feels akin to sauntering down a catwalk, stark bollock-naked, behind a troupe of Victoria’s Secret models. When I believe I am doomed to fail, why should I bother?
When I was seventeen and struggling to decide where to spend three years of my life for University (i.e. kind of a big deal), I shared the dilemma with my form tutor and Psychology teacher. She was not my favourite person – her prevailing apathy for her job and penchant for asking us to copy from textbooks in lieu of actual teaching had made the whole ‘learning’ thing quite difficult for me – but she had shown me an occasional kindness and I suppose I was feeling optimistic that day. I provided to her in earnest my list of options.
My first choice was in a city renowned for its nightlife and strong University culture, almost certain to force upon me a liveliness that was both exciting and terrifying in equal measure. Let’s be real at this point: I was no social maven. I had always been one of those dire overachievers who was just a bit too quiet to carry it off with confidence, and I preferred to avoid social events rather than facing the awful likelihood of fucking it up and making a royal tit of myself. Consequently, I didn’t make it easy for people to like me. Having spent my teenage years as a shy, ghost-like figure, floating around with a painful awareness of my social inadequacy, I yearned for the opportunity to re-invent myself as somebody whose skin I was not ashamed to inhabit.
I didn’t share with her quite this level of detail, of course, but it appeared I was more transparent than my seventeen year-old head envisaged. She scoffed at my suggestion immediately, reading between the lines. With not even the most ham-fisted attempt at delicacy, she laughed: “You wouldn’t get along there at all – it’s far too loud, too social. I think somewhere quieter would suit you much better.” I could feel the pity in her words, imagining this poor scrap of a girl becoming quickly lost in a sea of dazzling humans.
Did I choose the terrifying, bustling city? You fucking bet I did.
I tell this story not to paint myself as some sort of transformative heroine, standing on the parapet and screaming, “I showed you!” Certainly, my ‘reinvention’ was not so much a butterfly emerging with a flourish but an extended cycle of creeping out slowly, quickly changing my mind, and returning to my cocoon for a steady flow of self-flagellation and TV binge-watching. I tell this story because I’m committed to challenging myself, even when naysayers and pessimists tell me otherwise. Even when – no, especially when – the naysayer and pessimist is my good old self.
I’ve spent many hours debating whether or not to give this ‘writing online’ thing a proper go, because that’s another thing about me: if I do something, I want to really do it. I don’t want to give it a half-arsed attempt so I can successfully tick a box that says “I tried”; I want to throw myself in feet first and make it something I can be proud of. And that? That whole-hearted, leap-of-faith kind of thinking? Thoroughly, skin-crawlingly terrifying.
The perfectionist is scribbling excuses as I speak, because leaving myself open to criticism is perhaps more fear-inducing than my brain can handle and hiding away seems like an altogether more pleasant option. But living a life guided primarily by the fear of fear is something more unpleasant still. Words like ‘complacent’ and ‘comfortable’ transition slowly into ‘regret’, and all too soon I could be looking back at my past self and cursing her for allowing fear to be her compass. That possibility spurred me on at seventeen and again, almost seven years later, I want to take the road less comfortable.
Let’s do the scary thing.