“Say ‘yes’ to everything.”

That was advice my friend gave to the students at his former secondary school.

What he meant was: if opportunity knocks, don’t worry about failing, or looking stupid, or feeling stupid, or nervous or completely terrified – the upside of doing whatever it is you’ve said ‘yes’ to will be worth it.

When I had my first book published, I started saying ‘yes’ to a bunch of things I’d never done before:

  • Taking part in a celebrity debate
  • Speaking to groups of people at book events
  • Being part of a live radio show
  • Chairing a session at a writers festival (famous writer, 1100 people in audience)

Before I did any of them, I had all the fears above, plus sweaty palms, plus a fear of talking too much and not being able to stop, or, on the flipside, forgetting everything I had rehearsed and standing there mouth open, head rotating slowly, like a fairground clown you throw balls into.

I had a fear of letting down the people I was appearing with, and those who’d invited me. I was afraid of not being invited back. I was afraid that what I thought was funny would fall flat. I was afraid of seeing myself criticised in a review. I was afraid of falling over, or having a coughing fit, or…

In fact, just list every worst-case scenario you can think of, and I’ll add a few more, because I’m really terrific at worst-case-scenario-imagining.

Thing is, I still said ‘yes’.

I said ‘yes’ and I prepared and I did all those things for the first time.

And what happened? I didn’t fall down once or have a coughing fit (triumph!). But I did talk too much. I did forget what I was going to say. I got caught on the hop and stammered. I made some jokes that no one laughed at. Afterwards, I thought of lots of better ways I could have handled each event, and smarter and funnier things I could have said. I felt anxious that I wouldn’t be invited back. I saw and heard negative reviews of my appearances (most citing the above talking-too-much error, and yes, they do hurt, but I can’t go back and do it again, so tant pis, and besides, I also got nice reviews, but somehow those aren’t the ones you dwell on, are they?)

After all that, was it worth it?

Of course it was. It always is. Even when I screwed it up, it was worth it, because there’s nothing better than knowing you’ve been brave. I also know I’ll never please everyone, so better to please myself, and judge myself by my own standards (which are pretty harsh).

Every time you put yourself out there, it will be terrifying, and there will be no guarantee you’ll succeed. But don’t let that put you off. Say ‘yes’. And if you like, you can follow my friend’s other piece of advice, which was “Actually, accountancy isn’t that bad a career.”




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