The simple fact we often forget
Success. The word has a different meaning to different people. In the poetry world, success can take shape in a number of different forms. To some people it’s getting up on stage and performing in front of a crowd, to others, it’s releasing their first collection. Some poets are happy developing their skills on a more private level and others just want to vent onto a page, never revealing that page to the world.
However you view success, everyone has their own idea of it and everyone is struggling to achieve it. When I began performing poetry my goal was simply to move people; to try and make them feel something from my words. Three years on, that’s still my goal, alongside developing my reading and writing knowledge.
Poetry opened so many doors for me, it gave me a whole new community and made me feel part of something, after spending so many years as a solo writer. However, the more I performed poetry, the more I found myself comparing myself to other poets. I would leave a gig thinking, ‘oh their delivery was so much better than mine’ or ‘the way they use imagery is far more advanced than me’.
A lot of the time art seems to be a combination of having an ego and the confidence to step onto the stage mixed with having the ability to be a massive quivering self-doubting mess on the floor. It’s a tricky line to walk! However, I’d gotten to the point where I’d created a competition in my head where I was coming in at last place all the time.
Now, don’t get me wrong, a bit of competition is healthy. It’s good to strive to be better and progress, but not at the expense of mental health. We all compare ourselves to other people and it’s easier than ever to do on social media. But it often makes us unhappy. As writers we can forget that crafting something takes time and that everyone wants different things from their work.
A wise poet once said to me, don’t spend your life looking sideways. If you’re always comparing your work to other people’s or always focusing on other’s successes then how can you celebrate your own? Success isn’t a straight line, it’s a big squiggle that does up and down and round and round, does the hokey pokey then comes back.
I think we often forget that as poets, we’re different people and we have different strengths. There’s no point me comparing myself to some one like Luke Wright and thinking how unfunny I am, because I’m not trying to be funny!
It’s not about being the best poet or writer, because the act of writing and reading is totally subjective. It’s about being the best you can be.
We’re not in a poetry race and this isn’t some weird word game show.
If you’ve finally written a piece you’re happy with, feel good about yourself. If you’ve done your first open mic slot, feel good about yourself. If you’ve got something published, feel good about yourself. Celebrate yourself!
I always try and think of my life and achievements in years. When I’m feeling bad about myself I sit down and think, what did I do last year? Then I make a note of my achievements this year and find that I have always developed in some way. This is something that really works for me and for anyone lacking confidence, I’d advise you to do the same.
It’s so easy to think, I can’t do this or I haven’t done that, but looking at what you have done is what’s important. We often forget to focus on that.
The industrialist Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”
I never used to understand that quote as a child. Finally, I do.
First published July 2018