And don’t feed the mind monkeys either!
When I was 34 and my children were 18 months and 35 months old, I enrolled on an English degree with the Open University.
Literature, writing, books and words had always been my thing, and now that I had two babies at home and had resigned from my job to take care of them, I saw this as my one and only chance to get my degree. I wanted to keep my mind occupied, as well as enjoy my babies. So this was perfect timing.
Not having a degree had been a bugbear of mine. I know that this bugbear was wrapped and boxed in entirely different packaging to hide the real root cause of not being a graduate, but hey ho, I was on a mission to finally get my degree.
I was brimming with excitement, motivation and willing the postman to drop off my new books and paperwork from the minute I signed up. I was desperate to get started. The day the box arrived, I was so chuffed. I ripped it open and flicked through the textbooks, inhaling that brand-new-book smell deep into my lungs.
But after a few minutes, reality kicked in. I took a closer look at the foundation module books – An Introduction to The Arts – and my heart sank. The mind monkeys started.
You can’t do this. You’re not smart enough for this type of stuff. You’ve just wasted £600 on this first year and you’re not even working. You’re going to mess this up. What the hell were you thinking?
I chewed on with this dread for days until I finally tackled the hairy chimps running amok in my head. I grabbed a coffee, sat down at the dining room table, and started reading through the first workbook. I realised everything was going to be ok. Something clicked. I pacified the mind monkeys with, “Right, let’s just get through this year and the £600 won’t have been wasted.” They had nothing to say to that. And that’s what kept me studying, juggling domesticity, and the freelance proofreading projects I worked on to fund my education.
Fast forward six years and we were camping in Devon. Visiting Dairyland to be exact. The kids were flying down the zip wire, screeching and laughing, and me and my hubby were enjoying five minutes downtime in the sunshine. I’d just finished a 99 when I thought I’d check my emails to see if the OU had sent out the final results.
They had. My heart was racing as I clicked on the email. I’d passed my final exam with flying colours. A first-class BA Hons in English Literature. You know when people say, ‘it took my breath away’? I used to think that was just a phrase that drama queens threw around for attention. But that email actually did take my breath away. Or maybe it was a sob escaping? Tears sprang from nowhere. I couldn’t stop smiling. Goosebumps prickled my entire body.
Then the mind monkeys started.
No way. Flippin’ heck. They’ve made a mistake. You’ll have to ring them. First-class? No. Bet you get another email in a minute to say they’ve mixed up your results with someone else’s.
But I didn’t get another email.
It was one of the proudest days of my life when we went to The (Beautiful) Sage at Gateshead for my graduation ceremony – although the kids say it was one of the most boring days of their lives when they had to clap for people they didn’t know and their hands were sore. Love ’em.
Dressed in my cap and gown, I cast off my usual introvert ways, stood tall and walked proudly up to the stage to receive my certificate. I’d finally overcome my self-doubt and realised all that worry and panicking about whether my assignments were good enough, had been such a waste of my energy.
I realised I was smart enough. And I had proof now.
The mind monkeys still try to creep in from time to time. They haven’t given up completely.
The last time they visited was when I published my latest book. They aren’t quite as loud now and I’ve learned how to shush them rather than humour them.
And you should too. Because it means you’ll start moving forwards. You’ll start realising those big goals you set for yourself aren’t pipe dreams. You won’t waste any more time.
Just remember, mind monkeys lie.