by Lucy Kaufman
You know how they say, “Don’t give up the day-job”? Well, guess what? Today I gave up the day job. From now on, everything I do will be writing-related. Yes. I know. Scary, right? Stupid, even. To jack in a professional career, one I have invested over 20 years in, and one I always imagined I would continue well into my 80s. Well, today I did it. I closed my private counselling practice.
“There’s no money in writing”, “We can’t all be J.K. Rowling”, “You must have a safety-net”. These are the messages we writers hear on a daily basis, and they seem especially valid when you’ve been brought up in the working-class reality that there are no quick fixes available other than good old-fashioned hard graft. And they all felt true for me. But there came a point where I realised that I had been shoring myself up — like some trembling trapeze artist — with not one but several safety-nets, just in case any one of them should fail. Yet rather than add to my safety, each net took away my energy, my precious writing time and cluttered my headspace. I was constantly juggling. My To-Do lists were insane. Like anyone who had taken on too much, I suffered from stress. Then came lockdown.
Lockdown. This surreal, reflective time where our worst fears have come true, where we have been forced to face our own mortality, change how we work, and spend endless time with ourselves. In lockdown, my supervisor retired (at nearly 80 — I told you this is a long-term career). This was the fork in the road I needed to see that I could either make the effort to search for a new supervisor and continue seeing clients (via Skype, of course), or I could have the courage to take the other path, to finally devote myself to my one true passion.
In truth, prioritising my writing is no snap decision. It’s one I made four years ago, sitting in the waiting room of the state-of-the-art Cancer Centre of Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Hospital, waiting for my fourth operation of the day for skin cancer. I promised myself I would get to a point where my life was all about writing. I would teach writing, nurture other writers and, of course, write. It meant giving up another of my cherished safety-nets which was ready to go but hard for me to say goodbye to. But give it up I did, nine months later, leaving me with The Big One, the one I finally let go of today.
Of course, being a counsellor is more than a job; it’s a way of being, and I’m sure I will miss it. It’s been a privilege and a downright humbling experience to sit with people at their most vulnerable and offer them the best of me: my authentic self. But, as a counsellor, I can only take my clients as far as I have travelled. So it is right that I should push my own boundaries, commit to my own journey, unstick myself when I become stuck in ways which no longer serve me, and seek out avenues and opportunities which are a better fit. Thankfully, the clients I’ve said goodbye to this week have recognised this and valued it. Indeed, my life-changing decision has had the knock-on effect of giving them the spur they needed to make important decisions in their own lives, their own futures.
You could say I am in a good position to do this. I have 33 performed plays to my name, I teach Playwriting and Screenwriting for the fabulous Pen to Print, I am a script consultant and I direct. In lockdown. I finished the first draft of a new novel and am about to embark on the second. I now have a service for writers ‘The Writing Nest’, where I give feedback to, and nurture, other writers (another safety-net? Maybe, but one which melds the writing part and counselling part together). If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that there are few certainties in life, least of all about the future. This could turn out to be the worst mistake of my life. Or it could be, as I keep thinking it is, ‘About bloody time!’
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My life-changing decision has had the knock-on effect of giving others the spur they needed to make important decisions in their own lives, their own futures.