When I was ten years old, my parents took me and my little sister to an outdoor adventure play park on the south coast while we were on holiday, with swings and wooden climbing frames and, what many of the kids there were most excited about, a drop slide.
A huge, red drop slide.
Let me tell you now, this wasn’t one of those drop slides you see at soft-play parks, the ones where you’re flung into a sea of colourful plastic balls. It didn’t dip or curve. Instead, it plummeted you downwards at such an angle that you were essentially, for a few seconds, standing in mid air, until the vertical drop gave way to a long, flat expanse where your speed would decrease, along with your heart rate, until you climbed back up the top to do it again.
I didn’t know any of this yet, though. I was still sat at the top with my legs dangling over the edge telling myself, one minute, that I was going to do it, that I was just going to push myself off, and immediately afterwards, shouting at my Dad ‘DON’T PUSH ME. NOOO I’M NOT READY’.
The other kids made it look so easy. They were eager to fling themselves off the edge. Didn’t care about the oncoming rush of adrenaline and how that might make them feel, that falling sensation in their stomachs, the momentary thrill of being in mid-air.
I wasn’t worried about my safety: I sat up there for what felt like hours, watching as my Dad appeared at the top of the stairs again, disappeared down the slide again.
My safety was a given, what I was worried about was giving up control.
All I wanted was to know what it was going to feel like before I did it.
Instead, I sat at the top of the slide, looking down, willing myself to shimmy my butt over the side and let go.
I’ve always wanted to rush to the ending before I’ve even begun. Always wanted to know what’s going to happen, feel what it’s going to feel like, before I take the leap.
If I start a new project I want to know that it’s going to be a success.
I just started writing a book and already I’m worrying that no-one will like it, which, of course, makes writing it even harder.
I recently started a new project with a friend that I’m really excited about, but I’m already wringing my hands over the idea that it won’t be well-received, that other people won’t love it.
I’m constantly comparing myself to others and their success.
Instead of getting stuck in, taking one step at a time, being patient, overcoming obstacles, nurturing good ideas, putting bad ideas on the back burner, creating, writing, making things happen, I sit at the top of the slide and wait and watch while everyone else takes the leap.
No-one else seems to be worrying but, of course, they are. We all experience self doubt. We all worry that our readers won’t like what we write, that our clients won’t like what we pitch, that we’re not good enough. The trick is, I think, to know that your book might be read only by your mother, and maybe your sister if you bribe her enough, and to write it anyway.
To know that there will be people who hate everything you create, and to keep creating regardless.
We are blessed with hindsight and we can learn from our mistakes, but seeing what lies ahead is impossible.
Knowing something is going to be successful might sound like the best way to determine if your ideas are actually any good, but imagine the pressure that would come with that. Imagine knowing how well your next blog post was going to be received and then having to actually go and write it.
There is value in fucking up, in not knowing what’s going to happen but doing it anyway. That’s how we learn and grow.
Remember when you first had your heart broken? How it felt like you’d never be happy again? How you cried and watched way too many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy? And yet you still tried to love someone again, still let someone else love you? Because once you’ve done it; been hurt, healed, got back on your feet, it gets easier.
Your heart has a few battle scars, sure, but you’re stronger.
That’s the value in things going wrong: knowing that you get another chance. Knowing that it will be OK.
Knowing that you could write books no-one wants to read, paint pictures no-one wants to look at, record music that no-one wants to listen to, and yet it still means something to have created those things in the first place.
You can go to bed knowing that you tried, and that’s an achievement in itself.
I did eventually make it down the slide. Felt the wind blow my hair across my face, the momentary panic in my stomach, my heart in my throat as I raced towards the bottom. And that feeling, the adrenaline, the excitement, made me want to immediately do it all over again.
And I did do it again, and again after that, and I didn’t stop until it was time to leave.
The trick is, I think, to just start. Let go. And when you feel yourself falling, just close your eyes and trust that your feet will find the floor again.
[This post was originally featured in my weekly newsletter, The Letter B]