From Dropout and Drugs to Writing Success: How Pride Helps PREVENT a Fall

If there’s one saying I hate even more than ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’, it’s ‘pride goes before a fall.’

I hate the sing-song smugness of it. And I totally disagree.

I think that pride – as in being proud of yourself – can prevent a fall, and here’s why…

When I was a little kid I grew up in a house of full of books and records and political activism.

My parents met at an anti-apartheid meeting, my dad wrote letters of support to political prisoners and we knew the lyrics of protest songs far better than any nursery rhyme.

I was brought up to question and learn and explore.

If I ever went to my dad asking him the meaning of a word, his reply would always be the same (said in deep, gruff, Irish voice): ‘Look it up in the dictionary.’ I’d give a dramatic sigh and go through to the wall of books in the living room and haul down the huge Oxford Dictionary and trawl through the words until I found the one I was after. I used to think that my dad was being lazy when he told me to do this but now I know his evil genius plan. Hunting through a sea of words until I finally found the one I was looking for, seeing the mysterious pronunciation (pruh-nuhn-see-ey-shuh n) in italics and discovering the sought after meaning, all added to my growing love of words.

Another big contributor to my growing word nerdery was the fact that we didn’t have a TV – which at the time I thought was a crime worthy of a call to Childline – but I’m now eternally grateful for. By the time I was twelve I’d devoured all of the kids books in our house and the local library and had moved on to Tolkein and Orwell and Heaney. My imagination was a big as the universe. My reports shone with A stars.

Despite the fact that we lived on a council estate, I took it for granted that I’d one day go to university because my parents took it for granted that I would (even though neither of them had).

As a young child I was introverted and shy but I was quietly and fiercely proud of my intelligence. I saw at as the superpower that would help me achieve my dreams.

In my mid teens my parents’ divorce knocked me off kilter for a while and my reports slumped into Ds and Es but then in sixth form I realised that further education was my ticket out of unhappiness so I started working again. I worked my way back to A grades and set off to uni with a heart full of hope and a head full of writing dreams.

But ironically, it was at uni that my dreams died.

This was back in the time when only about 10% of the population went into further education; a fact my dad had raised his glass to, with pride, the day I got my A level results. But the trouble was, most of that 10% came from a very different background to me.

On the surface, when I got to uni, everything was grand. I made a great group of new friends. I enjoyed my course. But I couldn’t shake the nagging sense that I didn’t belong.

I wasn’t privately educated. I didn’t have money in the bank. My parents didn’t even own their own home.

In contrast, most of my fellow students seemed so confident and well-connected.

I felt myself fading in the brilliance of their middle class sheen.

I stopped seeing myself as intelligent and started seeing myself as inferior in just about every way.

Instead of feeling proud I felt inadequate and ashamed.

And my lack of pride led to an almighty fall when, at the end of my second year, I dropped out of uni, and ended up working in the complaints department for a high street store.

Aha, I lied to myself, this is where I belong, ploughing all of my passion for words into writing grovelling apology letters to customers who are clearly one valium away from a violent psychosis.

Now, there is nothing wrong with working in a complaints department – especially if you like being sworn at and abused on a regular basis – but there’s everything wrong with giving up on the things that make you come alive to your very core.

You end up trudging through life, dreary and depressed – or chasing false highs in toxic drama-ships and drugs.

Instead of writing books, I wrote letters that said things like:

Dear Madam,

I’m so sorry that our delivery driver defecated in your toilet and failed to flush…

And to stop myself from dying of boredom and despair, I took E and whizz at the weekends and let out my frustrations on the dancefloor.

Everybody’s freeeee to feel good!’ I’d sing, pupils dilated, hands in the air.

But the truth was, I didn’t feel free or good at all. And when the Monday morning come-down hit, I felt 57 kinds of horrible.

My lack of pride and self-worth led to me almost losing myself completely in a hugely destructive relationship. Rock bottom saw my neighbours wanting to call the police in order to save me.

But somehow, it was my passion for words that saved me.

Instead of dreaming big, I dreamed small. Small felt just about manageable. Small didn’t require pride.

So, instead of writing a novel, I wrote a short story.

And when the short story got published, I felt the first glimmer of pride in a very long time.

And that glimmer of pride gave me the confidence to write an article.

And when the article got published, and the magazine sent me a load of letters from grateful readers, my glimmer of pride turned into a beam.

And that beam lit the way for my first attempt at a book – a non-fiction guide to Antenatal & Postnatal Depression.

And when that book was published, I cried hot tears of pride when I saw my name on the cover.

I wasn’t a uni drop-out any more, I was an author.

Finally, I had enough pride in the tank to fuel my first novel.

I’ve just finished writing my eleventh.

It was pride that helped me clamber out of the depths to which I’d fallen.

I still have moments of insecurity – when I’m in a meeting with publishers and they start talking about the private schools they went to, or when I go to a literary event and a fellow writer talks about being funded by their wealthy husband or parents. But then I remember where I come from and instead of feeling shame, I feel pride. Wonderful, warming, glowing pride, and it fires me up to climb even higher.

Feeling proud of your achievements isn’t arrogant or boastful (unless you make it so by boring on for hours about them), feeling proud is healthy. It makes you happy and confident and fills you with hope.

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So today, take a moment to write a list of all the things you are proud of achieving.

And take way more than a moment to bask in that pride.

Let the glow that you feel light up your dreams and spur you into action.

Whatever it is that you want to achieve – to write a book, launch a business, change the world, meet your true love – use pride as the fuel to get you there and pride to pick you up if you should fall.

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Dare to Dream, the book is out now – and here!

All proceeds go to the charity, Leuka. Helping find a cure for leukaemia.

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