Sometimes I find myself standing in front of a mirror wondering just what the fuck I’m doing with my life. I find myself staring deeper and deeper into my own eyes, trying desperately to peer into my soul in an effort to decipher my past, my present, and my future. It’s not something I plan to do. I’ve never found myself thinking I need to find a mirror ASAP so I can question everything! But sometimes I’ll be caught off guard; lost in my own thoughts as I stare through bloodshot eyes at the tired man before me. Why haven’t you published anything? I’ll ask him. Why are all your friends in committed relationships or successful careers when you’re still pissing time away with such reckless abandon? How can someone who claims to be so intelligent have made so many mistakes?
It’s important to note that these questions are not linked to any previous battles I’ve had with mental health, nor are they an attempt to break my spirit. Rather I’ve come to know these questions as the writer’s equivalent of a teenager standing naked before a mirror flexing their biceps or pinching at their hips wondering what life would be like if they could make minor changes to their physical appearance. I stand and I stare at the man looking back at me and I appraise his features and his humanity. I try to imagine what steps I need to take in my life to bridge the gap between who I am and who I long to be.
Whereas I was once a boy I’m now a man. My chin that was once smooth is now covered with coarse hair. The skin around my eyes has grown the faintest inklings of crow’s feet, and my face is slightly freckled from a youth spent in the sun. For the most part I find myself comforted by the changes I see before me. I’ve grown older, wiser, and stronger. I’m gaining maturity while still possessing that youthful zeal. But when I focus on my eyes and ask myself those poignant questions; when I stare at the tiredness in them, they tell me that I’ve fallen short of where I could be by now.
Sometimes when I’m gawking at that man in the mirror he looks so worn down by his own shortcomings. And when he smiles glumly and shrugs his shoulders at his own wasted talent my heart shatters and the trumpets of missed opportunities sound inside of my head.
I am wasted talent personified.
This month I will turn twenty six, marking eight years since I began my journey as a writer. In that time I’ve experienced a number of highs and lows. I’ve entered writing competitions, winning some and earning accolades through people’s choice awards in others. I’ve completed various manuscripts and submitted them to publishers and agents, garnering moderate attention in my skill set. I’ve travelled across the globe where I’ve met authors and agents. I’ve shaken hands with royalty, and I’ve been invited to the odd industry event and party… But I’ve never quite broken into the industry in the way that I had envisioned.
Yep. Wasted talent. That’s me. Which is why I stare in the mirror and question why I often feel like I’m spinning my wheels while my friends and foes are racing ahead with dreams of their own. I’m a headstrong, arrogant piece of work. So I’ve got no issue in saying I have talent. I wouldn’t have come as far as I have as a writer if I didn’t possess some semblance of ability. But I’ve fallen short of success because there have been times where I’ve failed to grab the metaphorical bull by its horns and fight my heart out for what I really want. During those low moments where I have wanted to give up I’ve blamed everyone but myself for never quite making it. I’ve spat frustrated tirades against agents, publishers, other artists, the industry itself, and even factors within my life that are external to writing.
But I’ve never really taken ownership for my own willingness to accept second best. Until I started looking into the mirror. For the most part I’m a happy guy. Sure I’ve had some terrible lows in the past, and I’ll always be emotionally unstable. But I’m happy. I find beauty in every single day, and try to make the most out of my time here on this earth.
So why the fuck is there so much frustration and sadness in my eyes? And why can’t I stop myself from staring?
It all comes down to three things. Passion. Desire. And grit. I’ve got the first two by the fucking bucket full. I’m passionate about my craft and I have a desire to succeed that resembles an unquenchable thirst. But sometimes I lack grit. You know that real bloody knuckled, scrape yourself off the fucking floor styled determination? It’s been missing in my life. I thought it was there. But when the weight of the world starts pressing me into the dirt I tend to allow it. But if I really want to succeed I need to learn how to break its legs.
Passion, desire and talent will get you so far. But grit is what will make you a success. It’s grit that sees you send your manuscript to dozens of publishers and agents despite the rejections you have already received. It’s grit that sees a fighter punch his way out of the corner when everything is going to hell. It’s grit that sees someone with severe depression wake each morning and move forward with their life. It’s grit that sees the child bullied and beaten transcend above the petty taunts of his or her peers to become someone beautiful. It’s grit that sees anyone of us bridge that gap between who we are, and who we want to be.
I’ve been starting in the mirror asking myself why my friends and foes are in meaningful relationships or why they have successful careers whereas I do not. And for so long I’ve told myself bullshit excuses about how I’d chosen a career path that’s not easily defined. Or that the industry I want to work within is fickle. But the honest truth of the matter is that I haven’t deserved success. Having talent is just the beginning. It’s the gritty determination to keep picking myself up and trying again when I fail that will see me succeed.
When I stare in the mirror and cuss at myself for never quite breaking through it’s not because I want to fall apart again. It’s because I want to create a thick skin to accept failure and a yearning to bust my arse to keep going when all hope is lost. If my eyes are going to be bloodshot and tired I may as well make sure that it’s because I’ve given everything I have to trying to succeed rather than because I’ve grown old and bitter from a lifetime of giving up.