I’ve learned quite a lot this year but maybe the most important thing I’ve learned is that when we have a gut instinct, a vision or an idea that nags at us and doesn’t go away, it’s wise to act on it, no matter how scared we may feel or how crazy it may seem.
I had an idea this year that I wanted to write from my heart about issues that affect women and create a platform where we could share our life experiences and wisdom to encourage and inspire each other. And it seems – slowly and perhaps not in quite the way I’d have imagined – that vision is taking shape.
It all began in March on the eve of Lent. I stayed up most of the night, obsessed by an idea to start a blog based around body image and self-acceptance. The thought came to me in a burst of anger and frustration after I realised that I – like many other women and indeed some men – had spent much of my life criticising the way I look, grimacing in the mirror and poking and prodding at the bits of me I’d decided I didn’t like. I was almost 40 and I’d had it. So I decided that instead of giving up chocolate, crisps or bread for the 40-day Lenten period, I would abstain from negative thoughts about my appearance instead. And I would blog about my progress every day.
I spent most of March 9th clumsily designing a site and setting up a Twitter feed – despite being technologically challenged – and, with a fair amount of terror, I sent my blog live that afternoon. The result was Just As I Am – An Experiment in Self Acceptance, 40 days of writing about my battle against negative thoughts about my body, appearance and achievements and highlighting individuals and organisations that were promoting healthier body image and trying to stem a worrying rise in eating disorders, self-hate and self-harm.
Of course, there were times I thought I was a little unhinged – pouring my musings onto the page and into the ether and laying bare my hang-ups and neuroses for all to see. But I loved writing so honestly, without censure, and I felt so passionate about the subject matter that I couldn’t stay away from my blog.
My Lenten experiment took me through my 40th birthday and another idea was born: this website, From Forty With Love. Once again, it was one of those visions that kept me awake at night, with a mixture of excitement, adrenalin and fear. But I did it anyway. I put together a rudimentary site and continued to do what I had discovered I did quite well and with relative ease – write from my heart. Since then, I’ve blogged here about loneliness, relationships, singledom, childlessness, fertility, self-care, acceptance, trust, faith, death, loss, love and a lot more.
And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. There’s something so liberating about writing freely, without having to comply to someone else’s agenda or be watered down or spiced up by editing. As the American writer Tennessee Williams said, ‘If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it’ – or woman in this case. I’ve also loved the fact that a number of people have said they’ve liked what I’ve written or been encouraged by it. Over time, however, I came to realise that my blog was an easy way out. I hated picking up the phone to editors to “sell” my story ideas – I was a journalist and a writer, not a saleswoman. With blogging, I didn’t have to sell, I just wrote, albeit with a limited audience and no income.
But it hasn’t been in vain. It’s given me a platform to develop this style of writing and to showcase it to the limited number of editors I’ve contacted. And it’s earned me some guest blogging opportunities as well as a few magazine and newspaper commissions – which brings me to today.
Through my blog, I’ve met (either in person or virtually) some fabulous women who are following their passions, pursuing their dreams or using their talents to inspire others. One of those is Jody Day of Gateway Women, an organisation that supports would-be mothers or post-fertile women and helps them embrace their ‘childfree’ lives. And it was via a guest blog I wrote on Jody’s site, The Power of Testimony, that the Daily Mail asked me to write a piece about dating with baby goggles on – the trap I and other would-be mothers fall into when we’re aware of our biological clock ticking. Today, that piece appears in the paper – Baby goggles syndrome. Of course, I can’t write unedited there as I can here – but I still hope it serves a purpose: to remind me and anyone else in a similar position that we’d be best to date with the baby goggles off and that trying to control the future or live in it is futile and not the route to peace and contentment.
Beyond the specifics of that piece, however, what this whole blogging experience this year has shown me is that if we’re passionate about something, it’s best to pursue it, despite our fears.
I knew I was passionate about blogging and writing for and about women back in the summer of 2010. I put together a life collage out of magazine cuttings during a trip to Mozambique and the words ‘blogging’ and ‘women’ featured on the front page – along with other dreams for my future, a dog and a mountain bike safari in Africa.
So, listening to our instincts and following our dreams – even if our own internal critic or our more sensible friends tell us we’re foolish – seems to be the right way to go. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say. And often, if we’re following our passions and being true to ourselves, doors open where we never expected them to before. Work becomes less of a battle and more of a flow.
I’m not quite there yet – but that’s the goal for 2012.
I’ll end with a quote by the late Japanese psychiatrist Shoma Morita, which I came across thanks to Jody. I think it’s relevant to a lot of us who dream big but often get in the way of ourselves: “Give up on yourself. Begin taking positive action now while being neurotic or imperfect or a procrastinator or unhealthy or lazy or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself. Go ahead and be the best imperfect person you can be, and get started on those things you want to accomplish before you die.”