Life, eh? It’s basically a series of indignities heaped upon disappointments in a sort of layered sandwich of misery. A Zinger Tower Burger of pain, self-loathing and defeat. The victories, when they arrive, are small and fleeting; you’ve got to make them last as long as you can. But sometimes – just sometimes – they make all that other crap disappear.
During my formative years, I was often described as Jack-of-all-trades (these days the ‘master of none’ suffix seems more apt). Which is to say that I’m basically an indecisive prick. At school, I enjoyed most subjects without really specialising in anything. Because I worked hard and got reasonable marks, some of my peers had me pinned as a swot. But I wasn’t your naturally brainy, barely-has-to-revise-to-get-straight-As student. I wasn’t quite as clever as people thought I was: my decent GCSE results were earned.
When it came to take my A-levels, I had no idea what to choose – or, more accurately, what to drop. So when others were focusing their skills, honing in on two or three subjects, I spread myself way too thinly across five. I ended up with five passes, but not a single A in any subject.
It was at that stage that I realised I wasn’t actually very good at anything. After quitting Uni because I finally realised that I wasn’t enjoying German Studies (it may have been the Medieval stuff that tipped me over the edge) any more, I meandered into nothing jobs, eventually landing what seemed in my naive eyes to be a decent job in the accounts department of a solicitors. Years later, I realised I’d been misled into believing this could eventually make me rich (I know someone who’ll likely be costing files on the same fairly-low wage for the rest of their lives), and began looking for an outlet for my long-dormant creative side. I started a videogame fansite, and the rest is history. Curious career arc, no?
So it seemed at first I was quite good at writing, and the number of commissions I was getting appeared to support that theory. But then I’d read features and reviews written by my peers, and come to the realisation that’s a load of old bollocks, too. I don’t – and probably never will – write for the two publications in particular I would dearly love to contribute to. Ergo: I am rubbish.
I’m almost at the stage where I’m comfortable in my mediocrity, but I’m not quite there yet. I’m at the stage where a re-Tweet from someone I respect makes my day, when a kind comment from a peer puts a smile on my face that’s hard to shift. I’m also at the stage where a non-reply from an editor makes me wonder why I still bother, and why I haven’t yet sought out another career that I’m not really very good at.
But enough with the self-loathing. It turns out there’s one thing I might just be awesome at.
A week or so ago, my wife went for a night out with her best friend. I started getting my son James ready for bed. He said something that made me laugh – for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was – and I told him he was absolutely brilliant. “Well, you are absolutely handsome!” he shouted back. After a moment’s thought, apropos of nothing in particular, he looked straight at me, and said four more words.
“You’re a good daddy.”
He drank his warm milk, and we read a couple of his favourite stories – it was past his bedtime, so he nodded off almost immediately. I crept out and went downstairs, then sat down in the middle of the settee in the front room. I sighed deeply, then smiled. Then I cried for a full minute.
It’s the small victories.