What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Something amazing, I bet. Did you achieve it?
I didn’t. I had a few different dreams as a kid. First, I wanted to be a police officer. Then an archaeologist (because of Indiana Jones). Then a paleontologist (because of Jurassic Park). Then an astronomer (but that dream ended when I found out maths was involved).
But then I discovered books. Late at night, teenage me would read The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, and I decided I wanted to be a writer.
Did I achieve it?
Well, not quite. I write, but I don’t consider myself a writer. I write here on Medium, and I’ve had pieces published elsewhere online. Sometimes I even get paid.
But am I a writer?
On my CV, sure. On my bio on various websites, absolutely. In my head? No. The writing I do is freelance, with a significant emphasis on the free. Any payments I do get are small and irregular. As such, my writing is done during whatever hours I can carve out at night or the weekends away from a day job.
I’m not complaining, believe me. My situation is my own fault. I spent my time at university, mainly avoiding lectures and writing instead. But, coming out of university, I didn’t trust myself. Afraid that I wasn’t good enough, that I would never make it, I shelved any plans to become a writer full time.
Instead, I got a job. It wasn’t a good job (a modest History degree will only get you so far, apparently), but it was a job. And it was easy. I took the easy route.
For years, my writing was on the back burner. I still wrote stories occasionally, filed away on my computer where no-one would read them. I spent some time running a barely-seen football blog until I stopped.
Then I hit 30. It sounds cliche, but I suddenly realized I had spent years ignoring my real passion, and it had made me miserable. I didn’t really give everything to writing because I didn’t believe I could do it. I resolved to change.
Encouraged by my wife, I started putting the time in. I mean, really. Evenings, weekends, virtually any spare time I could get was spent writing. It took time, but it started to pay off. My writing was getting published online; my stories were getting read.
Of course, it’s slow going. I don’t expect to be able to quit my day job any time soon. I still have rent and bills to pay, and writing isn’t doing that right now. In truth, I may never achieve my ambition of being a writer full time. But I often wonder where I would be now had I put the effort in at age 20 and not 30.
So, what should you take from this? It’s simple: Get working at whatever you want to do, as often as you can, and don’t let anything stop you. It might be writing or something else entirely.
You may think you’ll never be good enough, but you’re wrong. Don’t make my mistake and assume it won’t happen. If you do that, you’ve already failed.
You can do it, and I can too — I just wish I had realized that a decade ago.