A good friend of mine came round last night and gave me a gift. It is the loveliest thing – a single piece of wood carved and sanded to create a tea light holder. I stroked its smooth exterior, peered in fascination at the intricate grain and told her how much I loved her gift – that I love wood particularly, its natural and tactile qualities, warmth and softness.
As I turned the tea light holder over in my hand I told her how when I was an eleven year old at my rather progressive comprehensive school everybody – boys and girls – were given the opportunity to experience every kind of craft available, regardless of gender. So the girls tried their hand at metalwork and woodwork and the boys at needlecraft and cooking. So far, so good – especially for me as although I wasn’t much enamoured with metal work, (too hard, too unyielding), I absolutely loved woodwork, especially carving. I loved the distinctive, mellow smell of the room, the concentration of the group as we fashioned life out of the wood and the kindly, gentle teacher. I actually even liked the soft, cream, calico aprons we wore. And I was good at woodwork. Although putting shelves and nailing objects together didn’t appeal much, I had some ability at carving.
But the following year we had to choose our subject options. And that meant choosing a craft. I pretended to hum and hah – I knew I liked woodwork but it was a boys’ subject and I’d be the only girl in the class. What would everybody think, what would they say if I opted for woodwork? Would they say I was like a boy? That I wasn’t girl enough? And more importantly deep down would I agree with them? Did I have the courage to be different?
At that age when all you want to do is fit in, I took the coward’s way out and opted for cookery. I remember so well the look on the woodwork teacher’s face when I told him – sheer disappointment that I had capitulated so easily to convention, to the opinion of others.
And it proved misguided in other ways too. At the end of the year, I convinced the entire cookery class that the cake we were making for our exam didn’t need flour and effectively sabotaged everybody’s efforts. The teacher gave me a fail for misleading the class while passing everyone else – in my opinion they should have failed for not thinking for themselves and acting like sheep. But truthfully I should have been in the woodwork room so who was really the sheep in this scenario?
I can’t in all honesty say that the decision to give up woodwork had a radical impact on my life. Although we’ll never know for sure, I don’t think that I would be the woodcarver in residence at the Courtauld Institute by now. There have been plenty of occasions since when I have allowed my rebellious nature full expression particularly recently. And I can forgive the young girl who wanted so desperately to fit in probably because I felt so different. And at the time I was regularly bullied for it.
But last night as I held the simple object in my hand and imagined the craftsman (craftsperson? Old habits die hard) who had lovingly honed that piece of wood, I felt sad for giving up so easily on an activity that gave me pleasure and connected me fully to my creativity and self expression.
Too often we give up on the things we enjoy because we tell ourselves we don’t have time or it’s not appropriate or more commonly we aren’t good enough. If you don’t get to publish your novel, then what’s the point of writing? If you don’t convince a gallery to exhibit your art, then what’s the point of painting? Football’s not a girl’s game. Dancing is for cissies. You need to be able bodied to compete in the Olympics… There are all sorts of self censorship that we impose upon ourselves – and thankfully others have been more courageous than me and broken through such limitations.
So don’t be like me and give up on doing the things you love. The sheer pleasure of pursuing the things we enjoy for their own sake shouldn’t be limited by our skewed sense of what it means to be successful. Or for that matter by what others say it should look like. Or who is allowed to do this or that. Or what it says about who you are.
When I chose to deny the part of myself that enjoyed creating something beautiful from a piece of wood because I was worried what my peers might say it meant about who I was, I cut myself off from a whole beautiful world of self expression. I was not being OUT LOUD and I regret that.
I have placed the tea light holder in a central position in my kitchen as a permanent reminder of how vital it is to do the things I love because this is a true reflection of the person I really am. It is no coincidence that this is the first blog I have written in some months and yet I love writing. One of the things which have been holding me back is because I have been telling myself that I have nothing worth writing about. The moral being that however old you are, there are some things you never learn.
Is there something you long to do which you have convinced yourself isn’t really for you – or more fundamentally is not you? Or for other reasons which really don’t make much sense at all? How long are you going to wait before you embrace all parts of yourself, before you become truly and joyfully OUT LOUD? Please share with us what you long to do or what you do which brings you joy. And if you need some help to take courage to access that joyful place, please contact me at and we can start the conversation.