All my life I’ve felt like people say that I can’t really do stuff. And sometimes it’s said not in a direct way, but through specific actions. And then I wonder, who are these people to tell us we can’t achieve something? What’s it to them?
I never was guided to go to university until very late on in the game. I never knew about league tables, I kind of had no real concept of what university was – I knew no one in my life who had been. It was like a foreign concept. I accidentally attended 6th form as a way to avoid full-time work (I worked 2 part-time jobs during my A-Levels instead), it was here that I started to keep the university prospectus shelfs in the 6th form block up to date and in the right place for others to use and inspire. I ordered every single prospectus from across the UK. I remember to this day all the different kind of designs they came in. I’d look at pages of these dreams and hopes like a kid might look at Disney World travel brochure. My teachers encouraged me to apply.
In fact, I used to look at Virgin Atlantic travel brochures too with admiration and fascination. I remembered how I would look at my favourite brouchure regularly and feel like a sensation at wondering just how downtown Vegas and all those millions of lightbulbs would look like. I would close my eyes and will myself to figure what San Francisco would feel and look like blending these pages of travel brochures and movies . It was literally a million miles away from my only ever been to Doncaster lived life.
I was told that it probably wouldn’t be possible to ever go there. Because, well, we’d never be able to afford it. It was deemed too ambitious – and what exactly would I even DO there?
I’ve now been to San Fran 5 times so far.
I somehow got to university to study fine art, without a foundation degree. I was the youngest in my year. I remember my interviewer at SHU asking me, “why do YOU think YOU can come to university without a foundation degree whilst everyone else has got one?” And my answer was… “Because I’m a Marxist”. I still cringe. But it did the trick. I told him in one sentence that what I lack in technical experience from a foundation degree, I make up in theory and self-sufficient ideas. Very SHU, really.
I went to work at summer camp after my first year of Uni, to work there & use the money from that job to achieve my american travel dreams that I had spent the past 10 years looking at. Here I realized that American kids are taught to believe that can achieve ANYTHING. They can be president if they so wished. Us Brits? Don’t be ridiculous.
I have wondered about that part of our culture a lot.
Here all my friends were going to be applying for real internships next summer.
In my second year I wanted to start a gallery out of my living room, and my lecturer at the time told me that it would be too much work and I’d never do it. I applied for an internship at MoMA – knowing fine well that i’d never in a million years get accepted, but it was a great excerise and I used my tutorial with the professor at the time to see if I could name drop him on another NY Gallery application.
I found the bestest people in my life, Postmasters. Who took a chance on a Smizz.
I was so inspired that summer after working there, that I started a bunch of iconic and life changing projects in Sheffield – Including CAKE artspace, which was a small room above a cool bar on West Street. We did so many cool projects over the 2 years we existed. Take-that my 2nd year lecturer who said I couldn’t do it.
I worked in art & political institutions across Chicago, and then mashed my BA & MA up together and graduated with my Masters in Fine art.
I graduated and I failed at getting most opportunities, but I kept on trying. In the meantime I took on jobs to make ends meet – and in these jobs – like Waterstones, I made some of my closest & giving friends. I learnt lots about bookselling and about publishing. I worked on 100’s of projects and started making a name for myself as a live-illustrator. I also used this time to re-connect with my friends and family.
I had to drown out, constantly, people telling me in so many different ways to give up – or that it’ll never happen for me. I even, at times, fell into the trap and would believe the self-doubt, I would wollow in self-pity. But i’d slowly pick myself up and dust off my trousers and start looking for opportunities again – with a lot of help and guidance from friends already in the art game.
I slowly started getting artist residencies in iconic galleries, and travelling the UK for drawing work. The working class kid from the Donx, making it as an emerging artist. Who would have ever believed it? Not me, that’s for sure. And not the people who believe you can never get work from art.
Then I fell sick. And I was rock bottom again.
All of my hardwork. Kind of disappeared over night.
People told me to just give up, because – well, who knows if I’ll ever be the same again. If I’ll ever NOT feel extremely tired. I had to let go of my old life. I refused, and it drove me down further.
And in that time I saw those gaps in the healthcare system. I saw how people held me up when I was limping and at my lowest. I knew then that I wanted to be THAT person. I wanted to try and help lift someone else up. I wanted to help make society a more equal place. You do that through health equality and care. And I just felt, deep down that an artist could do it because I was sensitive to the system and peoples needs – having a very real patient experience myself.
And so I started looking into which area specifically I wanted to go into. And I chose upon radiotherapy & oncology for its continuity of care, my need to know more about oncology and the team working aspect.
When I applied, I had no healthcare working experience and no science A-Levels. Many universities were reluctant to say that I could *even* apply to do it because of no science – But I had a 1st class Masters. I can learn. I’ve proven this. I had more than enough (straight A’s at A Level) UCAS points.
I paid no attention and applied anyways. And i got interviews everywhere I applied. But even in the interview process I was met with reluctance. 1 university (not SHU) said to me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re not our usual applicant – The NHS is a bit like a conveyer belt – so do you ACTUALLY think you’ll even fit in?” This threw me, how loaded with judgement and cynicism. I answered, yes I would fit in & much more.
I got offered a place, but SHU was for me. (Cuz I’m SHU until I die, obvs).
Plagued with self-doubt throughout the radiotherapy course, I constantly told myself that I didn’t belong. I had no science background. I was terrible on placement. I had no money. I had my arty habits. I’d think in these weird ways which took me longer to get to the right answer. I thought that maybe I’d made a miscalculation. I was sick. I was tired. I was miserable because everytime i didn’t do something right – i’d spend the next 20 mins + doing myself down inside my head – this was a constant cycle for months at a time all day, every week day. This is not the right way to go about it.
It was like I took all the baggage of all the many years of people telling me I couldn’t do something – and built it up into a mirror that I just tormented myself. I never began to believe the hype.
I somehow I got through 2 years of crippling self-doubt. And that was thanks to my friends, and all the supportive staff & people on twitter I had in my life — who thought that I could do it.
I went for my first RT job interview in Jan this year – and they took an instant dislike to me, which is fine. The next day they called to say i never got the job – which was like, duh. I asked for some feedback and they told me that my answers were “really, really good – just TOO detailed. And that they applaud my enthusiasm but they thought I was too ambitious ( which was that my long-term career plans was to enhance patient info by using patient experience [with specific examples] – not too ambitious in my mind)”. Whilst I’m 100% people did way better than me, I felt that that kind of feedback was unhelpful. Another voice just justifying to me my worst fear: that I’d never get a job in radiotherapy because i was too different, that i’m unlikeable, that the exact reason I wanted to go into healthcare to make a difference was seen as too ambitious. That I *couldn’t do that*.
Last week I picked up the national student therapy radiography of the year award, I won a bunch of awards for my first ever RT patient info app, I got my research chosen to be shown at the annual radiotherapy conference in Jan next year
And today I graduated with 4 prizes for: most innovative research project, highest clinical marks, highest clinical and academic marks, and highest mark in PRO 3 (2nd year) module.
I got my full scholarship to do the craziest PhD ever – combined all of this together — to, you guessed it, try and make a difference. To be ambitious there. (Although I am now riding myself with the same self-doubt and imposter syndrome that I had during my RT degree).
And this all came from people telling me that I couldn’t do it.
So I will take a leaf from this book of lessons.
When you want to make a positive change, whether that’s in the system or for yourself – and people say “you’ll never be able to get a job in that” or “you’ll never get accepted because you don’t have X” or “You’re just too ambitious” or “You haven’t got the right marks” or “That’s not HOW we do it,” Or “it’ll never happen cuz people won’t get it/don’t want it/people higher up won’t invest in it”
Do it anyways, try it. Test it out. It might be wrong. It might take longer than you expected. There might be loads of tears and headaches. Your relationships might be tested. But if you really believe, and you think it’s right. You’ll find a way through the bushes, or hanging across the cliffs. It might not be safe. But you’ll get there or learn something to use in the next move.
As Samuel Beckett says: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.