A (good) few years ago, I used to relieve the boredom of bar chat with strangers by telling them I was a backing dancer for Take That.
The truth – that I was an HR Manager for a shipping company – was far less glamorous, and I decided I wanted people’s eyes to light up, rather than glaze over, when I told them about myself.
(This type of conversational entertainment runs in my family. On my wedding day, people kept mentioning the fascinating chats they’d been having with “that lovely ice sculptor”. I was mystified, until I found out that my cousin had decided to swap his job at HM Customs & Excise for something more dramatic.
He’d even accepted an invitation from my batty new auntie-in-law to travel to her home in India and sculpt her likeness in ice).
All these years later, what strikes me the most about my Take That story is that I wasn’t embarrassed about telling it.
Instead, I enjoyed making up ‘insider’ tales about us backstage crew feeling like one big, happy family. I liked talking about how Gary Barlow would insist on bowlfuls of peanut M&Ms with all the brown ones picked out, or how Mark Owen’s stage outfits had all been sourced from kids’ clothes shops (it was my job to cut the labels out, so he wouldn’t realise and throw a diva fit).
As I told them, these tales felt viscerally real; as though I was living them every day. I suppose that’s the power of storytelling. Along with everybody else, you get to convince yourself of something extraordinary.
The American writer David Sedaris once explained that he wanted to see how it felt to do a more ‘worthwhile’ job, so when new people asked what he did, he told them he was a doctor.
He revelled in their compliments. His stories about a doctor’s life became more and more detailed and intricate. Then, he boarded a plane on which another passenger was having a heart attack, and he found himself unthinkingly responding to the call-out for medical help.
The reason I’m mentioning all this now is… what if we were to start imagining ourselves as the people we really wanted to be, and then we used those powerful stories and images to propel ourselves towards it?
Back then, it would have been out of the question for me to tell anybody that I was a writer, even though I’d wanted to be one for as long as I could remember.
The very idea of that would have been core-shakingly terrifying. What if the person I was speaking to laughed in my face, or they simply didn’t believe me?
(Funny how I didn’t mind telling them I was a backing dancer for Take That, eh?)
When I started the process of changing my career from HR to writing, one of the tasks I was given was to actually visualise myself as a writer.
I had to think about all the things that might happen on a ‘day in the life’ of my scribbling career. What I might say, and how I might feel when I talked about that day to someone else, and it had been filled with work I genuinely loved.
This was a hellish task at first. My becoming a writer was so important, but it felt impossible. It seemed cruel to try and imagine that I was already successful, when there was surely no hope of my beautiful scenario ever coming true.
But as it turns out, there’s something a bit magical about whispering a story into your mind’s ear.
Although I don’t credit that moment as the sole reason why I finally became a writer, I do credit it with instilling a quiet kind of confidence in myself…that maybe, one day, I could make it happen.
Four years later, here I am.
So, if you’re stuck or unhappy with who you are now, maybe it’s time to ask yourself: who would you like to be?
Maybe you could try getting comfortable with telling stories about that person. Even if you’re only telling them to yourself.
(Though I do have to say, there’s nothing quite like telling someone else what you’ve always wanted to be, then have them believe you like it’s just another everyday fact. Seriously, try it).
As for me, I’m still planning that autobiography about the Take That years. I warn you now, it’s going to be pretty explosive.
I'm a friendly and professional writer, reviewer and editor who works with warmth, humour and flexibility.
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