Writing a blog for the new year. Writing a positive, uplifting blog for new year. You can do this Alice. Except I don’t feel that positive. I’m not a fan of January. The January Blues feel like a real thing to me. Despite being a January baby and having a birthday to look forward to only days into the year, I’ve always found it a tough one. And having lost my mum almost 3 years ago now (that hurts to write) my birthday reminds me of everything I no longer have. Okay, this is not the most positive start to the blog and I havn’t even mentioned how cold and dark January is! And then there’s the list of too many impossible resolutions which I can’t keep but I’ve made because last year felt like such a mess and I’m desperate to achieve something before I turn thirty. Thirty?! Am I really turning thirty next year? Bugger. It’s 2017 now so yes I am in fact turning thirty next year!!! Ouch, and I’m not sure what I’ve achieved really. I’m an artist (Artistic Director of Moon On A Stick Puppet Company. Oh wait, that sounds kinda cool, but then again I gave myself that title so does it count?) so I have no chance of grown-up things like babies any time soon. Babies would be lovely. Babies would make me an all powerful goddess bringing new life and hope to the world, but then where would I make my puppets? My puppet studio would be a nursery and I’m not sure that would be practical. And how would I pay for all the little teeny baby things because I have no steady income and I don’t own my own house. And where on earth is that glitzy ring on on my finger? Oh dear this is not going well at all. I’m feeling pressured. Pressured to have achieved something and do you know what, I feel a bit rubbish about myself actually. I think maybe I should put my iPad away and just crawl under my duvet. Yes, I think that would be the best solution to this whole thing. Who wants to hear what I have to say anyway?
But, I did promise Elite Squad that I’d write this blog and I think I’d feel worse if I didn’t do it…
‘Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action’ – Richard Petty, Professor at Ohio State University taken from Allison Fallon’s blog
So I need to find some confidence in myself to write this, because it’s hard to put yourself out there, to step into the world and open your mouth. To say words. I’ve struggled with confidence my whole life. Before moving to London at the age of 18, I couldn’t even pay my bus fare myself. I had to get a friend to do it for me. Sheri Sadd of Elite Squad fame actually. When I moved from Norwich to New Cross (throw yourself in the deep end why don’t you?) for university, I washed in cold water for 3 weeks because I was too scared to tell anyone we had no hot water. I was terrified of my flat mates who were all cooler than me and took drugs and didn’t wash up (Ever. I mean anyone who knows me knows I’m messy, but these guys were gross. Things were living in our sink, things with gills and little furry arms) and that only made me feel even smaller. I wanted to leave, but Sillett’s are not quitters and I was going to see this through to the end. It was sink or swim. Either I hide away under that duvet again, or I go out there and ask someone where the rail replacement bus is, so I can make it to the Fresher’s boat party instead of missing the whole darn thing because I can’t find the stop. And when you come from Norwich a boat party on the Thames seems very swish. I was not missing that.
I had a taste of true self belief when I took on the challenge of running the Virgin London Marathon in 2015. In the depths of grief I needed something positive to work towards and as many people find, a physical challenge is helpful in giving you that sense of purpose. I was a non runner. In terms of miles, I had run none. But I started running one day. I ran whilst listening to Desert Island Discs and I cried whilst I ran. I shouted at my boyfriend whilst running and I talked to my Dad about how much we missed mum whilst running. I ran up hills and I ran alongside the Thames and I cried and I ate lots of potatoes. And eventually I was at the start line. This was it. Just me, myself and my self belief. Okay, let’s be honest the first 22 miles I got through with the help of my training, my friends and family supporting me and those random strangers that look you right in the eye and tell you that you can do it. But I remember so distinctly looking for my Dad and boyfriend around about Mile 24. I was running at this point, though I’d been walking a few miles earlier, because I wanted them to see me strong. I was searching in the crowd for them, the meeting point of Cleopatras Needle had been and gone and it sunk in that they hadn’t made it across London from where I’d last seen them. I looked down at my legs which I could not believe were still moving. I mean they were so tired and achey by this point I was just amazed at them taking me forward. And I remember thinking ‘I’ve got to do this by myself now. I’m on my own’. It’s just me, a broken body, a broken heart and self belief. And I did do it. 5 and half hrs after I crossed the start line I crossed the finish line. Changed. It felt fantastic to know you could achieve what you thought to be impossible. I was powerful. So I know the power of true self belief but it really is hard to keep hold of that feeling. And though I look back on that memory with great pride, I find it difficult to get back that feeling in my day to day life.
In the lead up to the marathon my wonderful friend Ellen would send me inspirational quotes each day. My favourite one, “aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know that so it goes in flying anyway” (Mary Kay Ash) reminds me that we are capable of anything. I try to remind myself of this often because being an artist is tough and it takes its toll on your confidence. All those knocks are hard to take and it can be exhausting to keep building yourself up every time. But the hardest knocks are definitely the ones I give myself. Those knocks really hurt and they stop me from seeing the things I’ve achieved.
The self belief thing isn’t just my problem. Why are so many of my female friends not able to see what they’ve achieved either? So many of favourite women – there’s loads of fantastic men around me too of course but I notice it less with them – have a problem with confidence. They take all the knocks and let them chip away at them but they struggle to see the things that make them so fantastic. Even the women in my life who I thought had real unshakeable inner confidence, I’ve seen beaten up by themselves. Why are we so harsh to ourselves? Why can we not forgive ourselves for our failures?
A very wise friend when asked the secret to her looking so young said “I forgive myself for making mistakes”. Well, last year I made plenty of mistakes and I haven’t forgiven myself for any of them. In the Moon On A Stick rehearsal room we say “that’s another one for the ‘THINGS I’VE LEARNT’ list”, but that list seems exhaustingly long. I’ve made big leaps forward but the many mistakes feel like giant leaps back. Where’s that duvet? I can’t make any mistakes from there, can I?
I’m going to confess now that I don’t know the answer. I don’t know how to be okay with my failures. I just know that forgiving yourself for making mistakes seems like a good thing because it means you are unafraid to make them. It can take you from thought to action.
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.” Neil Gaiman
Maybe I’ll just peek out from under the covers now. Yes.
Having others believe in you helps you believe in yourself. But it is within you. So to all my beautiful friends and all those who self doubt and cannot see they’ve achieved. And to myself. YOU ARE BRILLIANT. JUST BRILLIANT. You are doing so well and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, not social media, not other humans and especially not yourself.
You can fly…you ARE flying. Just like the bumble bee.
Positive blog complete. Well done Alice. Phew.
Alice Sillett is an Actor, Director and Artistic Director of Moon on a Stick Theatre Company.
Moon on a Stick is just about to complete its wildly successful winter tour of Jack Frost. The Arts Council funded show has been very well-received with many sell-out shows, however there are still a few tickets available on some dates http://bit.ly/2jkbZaA
Alice is back running this time in April at the Brighton Marathon, please join us in wishing her well.