Updated: Jul 2, 2020
| This is the 261st story of Our Life Logs |
Let’s take things back to March of 1989. The 16th of March, to be specific, in Barnsley, a mining town in South Yorkshire in the United Kingdom. Margret “The Iron Lady” Thatcher was at the helm of the country and the nation was collectively grooving along to the strains of “Too Many Broken Hearts” by the inimitable Jason Donovan. And suddenly pop—there I was. Well, it wasn’t so much a pop, and I’m sure there was a whole lot more screaming and bad language, but suffice to say this is when I came into this world.
Let me tell you the story of the long and meandering path that brought me where I am today, and how I discovered that following your heart isn’t always the smoothest path—but it’s potentially the most rewarding.
My younger brother and I were brought up in an average, working-class home by two awesome parents who both worked in the National Health Service. I had friends that I went out and played with every night after school. I couldn’t have wished for a better childhood. I don’t say it to my parents enough—and I really should—but they did an amazing job.
And I was happy.
“Fully capable” and “class clown” were phrases on nearly every one of my school reports as I was growing up. The former was usually followed by “but…” and a whole paragraph on why I wasn’t utilizing that capability. And I was fully capable. I loved writing, and often while half-listening, I was always doodling daft little stories, silly rhymes, and drawing funny cartoons. When push came to shove, I would always pull it out of the bag. It’s just that sometimes I preferred to do things my own way. Not everyone liked it, but it’s a trait that has carried over into my adult life. I knew what I should be doing, but sometimes following your head isn’t as fun as following your heart.
So, my teenage years rolled around. Yeah—long hair, nights out at friends’ houses drinking cheap booze, listening to terrible music while awkwardly flirting with any girl that would give me the time of day and largely getting nowhere. It’s what you do. A rite of passage, if you will.
When it came time to think about what to do after high school graduation, music is what came to mind. It was creative, it was a release, it was freedom. It checked all the boxes. And I had been playing since I was about eight. My dad always had a guitar around the house, and he taught me the basics, and I learned the trickier stuff on my own. I wrote songs and recorded rough demos for a lot of my teenage years. Listening back, some of those songs were quite good, actually! But some of the best memories I have are of sitting in my bedroom with my dad with our guitars, jamming along to Paul McCartney’s Flaming Pie album, shouting out the correct chords to each other when we inevitably tripped up.
So, music it was. I took a two-year music practice course at the local college. I had no game plan. I didn’t know where I wanted my life to go, but my heart told me that I loved to make music, so that was what I was going to do. And for those two years, I had a great time playing, jamming writing, recording and performing. We performed at the college as part of the course; we performed in local venues and open mic nights just for the fun of it.
And I was happy.
But of course, it came time for the music to come to an end. I had completed the course, but the dream to pursue a career in music was just a dream. I was self taught without enough formal qualifications, and even if I did, finding a career in the industry afterwards would be one-in-a-million.
So once again, I was at one of those what next moments. I either go out and find a job or go back to college and do another course. Well, looking around for jobs there was nothing other than soul-destroying humdrum that I would grow bored of within a few months, so I plumped for the college option again. It was the logical, sensible choice. Maybe it was time I stopped following my heart and my desires and followed my head?
Anyways, I got another year at college and a few more qualifications under my belt, found a wonderfully gorgeous girlfriend (keep that bit quiet—we don’t want it going to her head), and in an attempt to do the right, traditional thing I eventually ended up working at a local bank. I cannot understate how dull working in a bank in a small town is.
And I wasn’t happy.
Inevitably—and largely brought on by my general lack of enthusiasm—I was let go from the job after a few months and back at square one. I needed to find something to do and fast. My parents and girlfriend weren’t just going to let me sit back and do nothing! So, in September 2010, I thought the best course of action was to go back into education and put my writing skills to good use, leading me to apply for a journalism and English literature and language course at Coventry University.
My time in Coventry was a mixed bag. On one hand, I didn’t learn much and felt like the entire thing was a waste of time. Was this the path I really wanted to take in life? Maybe. I was good at it. But of course, there were doubts. On the other hand, I got to move in with my girlfriend down there, and meet some fantastic people. It was these people and the experiences with them that strengthened my resolve to carry on and see the course through.
Those three years went by in a blur, and suddenly it was November 2013 and I had graduated. Wow—that was fast! My time at university was over. So, there I was with nowhere to live, a huge student loan debt, and a degree in something I could have Googled in a few hours.
Then came the inevitable pressure to get a steady 9-to-5 job, get a mortgage, get a house, follow your head, and do the right thing. And while this pressure came from a good place from people that loved me, there’s nothing more depressing to me than the thought of clocking in at 9 am, clocking out at 5 pm, getting paid to pay bills until…forever. I didn’t want my future set in concrete.
But I did the logical thing and got a job at a primary school. 9 to 3:30, fantastic holidays—seemed like a great idea, right? And to be fair, it was a great idea, and for four years I spent my time working as a Learning Support Assistant helping kids achieve stellar results. Yes, it was a difficult job at times, but immeasurably rewarding. It afforded me the opportunity to buy a house and go on some fantastic holidays.
And I was happy…until I wasn’t.
My innate sense of wanting to do things my own way and following my heart started to rear its head, which of course put me at loggerheads with several other members of staff including some of the senior leadership. Trying to inject some vitality and innovation to the job, questioning the old ways and toying with the status quo seemed to be cardinal sins. Many times, I found myself having a strip torn from me, telling me that following my head was the only way to go. And while it was all water off a duck’s back for the longest time, people and their negativity did take a toll and grind me down until I decided to resign. No plan, no anything, just a letter basically saying, “Thanks, but bye.”
So, there I was again. Another what now moment.
What was I going to do? What was I good at? I thought long and hard about things, and though even my head was telling me I was just going to have to settle for a boring old 9-to-5 job, I kept coming back to those silly bits of writing I did as a kid. Those wonderfully creative songs I’d penned over the years. Just like that, there was my answer.
I decided to finally put my creative capabilities to good use and pursue a career as a self-employed freelance writer. Now, freelance writing isn’t simple. It’s not the easy path that I’ve so often chosen, but it affords me a freedom and an autonomy that I wasn’t getting to work for someone else. How sustainable this is, I don’t know. I’m sure that that’s down to how much work and effort I am willing to put in, and luckily my girlfriend—now fiancée—is the most supportive person I’ve known.
And we are happy.