How I Found Freedom in Failure

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On July 24th 2020, two momentous events occurred. 1: Taylor Swift released her 8th studio album, and it is all I have listened to since. 2: I got a rejection email from the one masters course I had applied to. Surprisingly, the Taylor Swift album was the only thing that made me cry that day.

At the beginning of March, I applied for a scriptwriting masters programme at a prestigious theatre school in London. I thought it was everything I wanted. My final year of university had felt like driving a train into a mountain tunnel filled with dynamite. I knew I would crash and burn eventually, but the darkness blocked my vision, and there was nothing I could do to prevent the collision. Graduating felt like a game of who can abandon whom first. I’d rather be the person leaving than the person left behind, so it made sense to get out while I could, to make the decision to leave Glasgow for good before all my friends did the same.

By the end of March, the world had turned upside down. Half my friends moved away overnight. The goodbyes I did have weren’t enough, and the goodbyes I never got to say haunted me for months. Months went by, and I waited in limbo. I got through to the second stage of the masters application. I spent a week hastily writing a script to submit. I wanted to write something deep and multifaceted and important. Instead, I wrote a romantic drama about mismatched communication styles and poor timing, which was more valuable for its cathartic qualities than its theatrical merit. Weeks went by. Another email, another test passed. Against all odds, my script hadn’t been a disaster. The final stage was an interview. It felt too short, but it didn’t go badly. Three weeks passed, and I heard nothing.

After months of being sure this was what I wanted, confusion began to creep in. I had spent most of the lockdown sitting alone in my room searching the furthest corners of my brain for something to yearn for, something to aspire to, some kind of far-distant goal that would make the months of emptiness worth it. As the lockdown began to ease, my freedoms trickled back in. I could spend time outside more than once a day, I could see my friends, go clothes shopping, get a job. The emptiness filled up; I have a life again. And I realised everything I want is right here in Glasgow, or it will be soon. Half my friends have moved away for good, but the other half will be back in September. All London had to offer me was a degree. I would have had to work every day I wasn’t studying, in order to pay extremely high rent. And probably share a flat with seven other people – my literal idea of hell. I told myself I was just anxious because I was waiting around for an answer, that as soon as they accepted me, I would feel fine.

On Friday evening, I picked up my phone to show a friend a picture of my cat wrapped in a towel after she’d had a bath, and I had an email from the admissions office. You can imagine what it said, words like “strong application” and “unfortunately” and “not successful”. I didn’t feel relieved, per se, but I didn’t wish for a different outcome. It didn’t even occur to me until an hour later that a normal reaction would be to feel like my writing wasn’t good enough. All I could think was: this is the way it’s meant to be.

For so long, the idea of staying in Glasgow after I graduated felt like giving up. If I didn’t chase after something bigger and better, I would have failed, somehow. “Failed according to whom?” you may ask. I don’t know. There is a vague committee of inner critics that hang out in the shadows of my mind, and they tell me I have lost the popular vote, that I will always go through life never quite managing to prove myself. You see, I aspire to achieve great things, but I myself do not intend to be great. This juxtaposition makes my existence an uneasy one. I want my work to stand for itself, I want to write novels that change the world. But I want to live a quiet life filled with love and art and travel and good food and a stable routine. There is a light inside of me, but that light is not me. I am a vessel, and my writing pours through that vessel. This is not death of the author; it is compartmentalisation of the author.

Last December, I published my novel The Purest Form of Chaos. Do you know what people have been telling me ever since? “But no one reads books anymore…”. In November, I knew exactly what I wanted from life. In December, a vicious little hyena took up residence in my brain, feasting on the carcasses of my insecurities. This scavenger in my mind told me if I wanted a career as a writer, it would never come from writing novels. I would have to turn to theatre and television, because that was the only way to get people to interact with my work. I convinced myself I had to leave Glasgow, leave my life behind, give up on all the things I actually wanted, because they were too hard, or too improbable.

There have been a couple of times in my life where I’ve told people one of my deepest hurts: “you never fight for me”. It was only during these past few months that I realised the root of the problem: I don’t fight for myself. I haven’t fought for my novel.

2020 has been a year of coming back to myself. If there’s one good thing that came out of lockdown, it’s that I spent so much time alone with my thoughts that I finally recognise my own inner voice. I’ve learnt to ignore unsolicited advice from people who don’t understand what I want from life, I’ve learnt to stop internalising other people’s projections. And this week, I’ve learnt what a blessing rejection can be.

If I had had a choice and chosen Glasgow, I fear everyone (who “everyone” is, I do not know) would have thought I was staying for the wrong reasons. I’m not staying in Glasgow because I’m scared of moving away, I’m not staying because I’m playing small with my life, and I’m not staying because I can’t give up my attachment to the past. I’m staying because this is the authentic choice, I’m staying because a weight lifted from my shoulders the moment it hit me what staying really means. My life is here. If I had moved to London, I would have started a new chapter. But staying in Glasgow means I get a sequel. We can watch this character who has matured over the past four years enter a new phase of her life. The story will change, but the character and setting stays the same. I have the one thing I value above all else: freedom. I am financially independent. I can move into a new flat, and find a higher paying job. I can build the life I want. This is the time in my life where I get to be picky, where I get to choose exactly how I want to live, and not be answerable to anybody. I am independent, I am empowered, I am a grown adult. And that’s worth having to pay council tax for.

I trust myself more than I have ever trusted myself in my life. I am stable, I am resilient, I know exactly what I want, and these next few years are going to be dedicated to Eliza time, where I build myself up even further.

Last night, I walked through the University of Glasgow campus for the first time in weeks, and as the golden light of sunset settled on my face, I looked at the buildings where I spent so many years of my life, and no longer felt sadness or regret. That part of my life is over, but I don’t have to leave it all behind. I’m still here, and I’m still writing my story.

This is the first time since November that I haven’t felt afraid of the direction my life is heading in. I am twenty-two, and I am talented, and I have the whole world at my fingertips. I don’t need to be a student anymore; I don’t need another year of the rollercoaster that was my life at university. It shaped me into the woman I am, but I am ready for adulthood, I am ready for stability. I want to settle down and work hard and build something solid and steady. The flighty version of myself that I have kept half-caged for so long doesn’t exist anymore; there is no need for me to run away. On the outside, this rejection may look like failure, but it has been my gateway to freedom.

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