On 10 October 1980, Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech that would change the way we think about political decision-making for the foreseeable future. Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton, she uttered the words: ‘You turn if you want to, the lady’s not for turning’ – a phrase that would transform her refusal to reverse a terrible and hugely unpopular decision into an example of political power and virility. Thanks to Thatcher U-turns were now considered representative of inexcusable political weakness. And my how we’ve grown to love the stupidity and incompetence that they represent. As Nesrine Malik wrote in a recent piece for The Guardian, ‘There is nothing opposition politicians and journalists like more than a good old flip-flop.’
Whilst Thatcher is long gone from Downing Street, the impact of her political stubbornness has been immense. One has only to type ‘Political U-turn’ into Google to gain insight into just how much power her words held at the time, and how much the media continues to ridicule those who are guilty (as if it were a crime) of backtracking out of their political decisions.
Of course, in some cases political U-turns are wholly unfair and deserve all the ridicule they get. May’s recent backtracking out of her energy price cap proposal, for example, has left millions of over-worked and underpaid Brits with increasingly unaffordable energy bills to pay. But even in cases where U-turns are made in favour of reasonable objections and for the greater good of the people, we are still prone to condemning them as nothing more than lack of conviction. Unfair and misguided as some government U-turns certainly are, it seems there may be more than meets the eye to the disdain that many of us feel towards them. And I think this can be explained via meritocracy.
Politicians sometimes make mistakes. And, like everyone, they sometimes change their minds.
In a society which overvalues success and fears failure like the plague, it’s no wonder we’re so hard on those who demonstrate any kind of uncertainty about their actions or ideas. After all, the notion that we must never fail at anything, including any decisions that we make, is something that most of us internalise from an early age. It’s something that we’re first made aware of at school, where we’re expected to work hard for good grades if we are to achieve anything of value in life. And then at college and university, where we’re encouraged to compete with our peers for academic merit. It is then drilled in again when we reach the workplace, where we’re expected to keep moving up through the ranks and making more and more money as we go.
What we often neglect to realise in the pursuit of success is that, more often than not, failure is a necessary part of the journey. Other than the incredibly wealthy and privileged of our society, there are very few who find success without making some mistakes along the way. So, if we consider that political decision makers are some of the most successful people in the country, and that like everybody else they are expected to succeed without any failure, the idea that their U-turns are always rooted in incompetence seems pretty harsh. Politicians sometimes make mistakes. And, like everyone, they sometimes change their minds.
And this isn’t to say that I’m not well aware of the fact that some government U-turns are merely tactical rather than based on genuine mistakes. But I must say, I’d rather live in a society where political decisions are sometimes reversed than one in which policies are always stubbornly implemented and held in place regardless of the objections that they are subject to. In a democratic society, the ability of our politicians to admit their failings, change their minds, and decide to go down a different path is something that I would personally like to see more rather than less of.
Type the words ‘creativity’ and ‘advice’ into a search engine and it will come back to you with hundreds of articles, books, videos, and podcasts, all offering practical tips on the best way to tap into your imaginative powers. These range from developing a morning ritual for your craft, and surrounding yourself with creative people, to drinking lots of coffee, and spending time with either your own or someone else’s children. There is tons of advice out there for those who are looking. But is any of it really that helpful?
In my experience, reading up on how to harness creativity has only led to feelings of inadequacy as I have come to realise that my way of doing things is simply not in line with much of the available advice.
Far from being organised in any way or following any particular ritual or routine, my poetry writing process is pretty random, with ideas often popping up out of nowhere and demanding immediate attention when I least expect them. Depending on where I am at the time, I write these ideas into my phone or straight into a document on my laptop, and will often have a first draft finished by the end of the day, or a few days later if I’m busy with other things. The editing process is much more time consuming, sometimes taking weeks, months, or even years in some cases before a piece of work starts to feel finished.
There is tons of advice out there for those who are looking. But is any of it really that helpful?
I can also go for long periods of time without feeling any inclination to write poetry at all, something I’ve always felt annoyed by but considered a pretty standard experience amongst creative writers. However, after reading somewhere a few years ago that to properly harness my creative powers I should be writing at least a paragraph every day in a dedicated journal, I began to wonder if perhaps I wasn’t being as productive as I could be.
And so I tried to be more ‘literary,’ buying myself pretty notebooks and fountain pens, and setting aside time at the end of each day to write beautifully composed passages in elegant handwriting. Rather than helping, though, this turned out to be more of a hindrance to my writing process, as I found myself spending more time focusing on when and how I was writing than thinking about the ideas themselves.
Then I started to wonder if it could simply be the case that there are different ways of working. Returning to my disorganised ways, I realised that the answer to this question is, of course, yes. And to dispel the myth of there being a ‘right’ way of working that will suit everyone, I got in touch with a range of creatives working in various fields to find out how the process works for them.
Those interested to find out more can read the answers that I received below. In the meantime, though, my creativity tip to you is this: Do whatever feels right and works best for you!
Q: What inspires you to create, how do your ideas develop, and what does it feel like when a concept begins to emerge as a tangible piece of work?
My creative process begins with a need. This need might come from outside, or it might be internal. As a writer and a performance maker, my practice is diverse, and therefore the needs that stimulate it and the responses to them are also diverse. When writing, the need is most often an external one as I most often write to commission. I will receive a simple brief from my editors, and then it is largely up to me to discover a direction that the piece wants to go in.
My first step is to try and get some tangible sense of the ‘place’ involved, whether it is a real geographical location, or a place within an idea. I do this through watching videos, reading, talking to people, asking questions on social media, looking at photos...
Read Richard's full response
For me, everything around me can be a form of inspiration. My upbringing, my family, my partner, nature, my travels, an article in the paper etc.. I think of the creative brain as a sponge, something that can absorb many different things that you might overlook at first but sometimes come back to you years later.
I feel like my ideas develop in very abstract ways, sometimes it does come as a click, a wild thought that just pops into my mind, or sometimes it’s about how I am feeling or a place that I have been to. I think my biggest struggle is the same as everyone else’s, that is to start...
Read Fernanda's full response
I think that my surroundings and my life experience play a big part in inspiring me and when I’m in the right frame of mind I can get real excited about creating something.
The first beginnings of an idea come in different ways. Sometimes I find that when I am working on a piece of music I come up with something that may not fit the composition I am working on at the time. I try to shape this new idea quickly and record it really roughly before I forget it. I have many fragments like this that I have built up over the years...
Read Jez's full response
A lot of things inspire me to create nowadays, not just art, but life, experiences, insightful discussions, etc.. I usually get some kind of jolt/urgency to get the idea out. Once I start, I either go full throttle for hours or it can wane quickly or last a few minutes. Sometimes, the jolt comes but it's light, and I let the idea simmer for a bit, until I get uncomfortable keeping it in any longer...
Read Eyesha's full response
Inspiration comes from the outside, not so creativity. I have found it fascinating to watch and investigate its nature: creativity undoubtedly arises from within. There seem to be at least two kinds: an expansive one, which is kind of there all the time. And then there is the one which responds to limitation, to problems of any kind. Once it gets going, this kind flows with speed and focus, it has a sense of urgency. The ideas come fast, one after the other. Word after word, stroke after stroke, ingredient after ingredient (yes, also when making food).
So personally, I find that I need to get in touch first with that vast rhythm of creativity inside me, it’s like an ocean lapping at my shores, sculpting my inner universe, even when I’m not thinking about it...
Read Gertrude's full response
Writer, Actor and Spoken Word Artist
Similar to many, if not most writers, I have been writing all my life. Tatty old notebooks overflowing and poking out of every shelf in my home, and boxes crammed full and not quite closing in the loft are testament to some 30 or so years of processing life and the world through the written word.
Even though now any creative work I write gets typed up on my computer and copied to an external hard drive (when I remember to back up), I still can’t come close to dispensing with the notebook. In fact my preoccupation with always having something with me to write in has lead to a rather lovely supply of gifted-notebooks, given by friends who understand or enable this dependency...
Read Fleur's full response
During my graduation ceremony, the head of my university’s English department boldly stated in his speech that graduates live happier, healthier and more comfortable lives than those who choose not to complete higher education courses. At the time I thought, ‘What a load of tripe!’ Several years down the line I still believe this to be the case.
The notion that university attendance leads to higher levels of personal well-being is, I believe, a gross misconception founded on the outdated belief that academic study leads to higher salaries and, therefore, better quality of life. In a country where over half of the school-leaver population now goes on to enrol at university, holding a Bachelor’s degree in the UK today isn’t likely to improve either employment or salary prospects for most graduating students.
For those who hold unflinching career goals and are naturally gifted in academic study university is, of course, always going to be a beneficial endeavour. As well as being able to easily produce work that receives good grades, high academic achievers are also often blessed with the guarantee of professional well-paid work on completion of their courses, regardless of the subjects they choose to study. But for those who are uncertain about their careers, and who may also struggle to produce consistently good coursework, attending university simply doesn’t have the same benefits. Bearing this in mind, the question that I’d like to focus on is whether there is still value in attending university outside of the ‘happier, healthier, more comfortable’ myth. Personally, I believe that there is.
The knowledge and skills that I gained through studying fiction and poetry will always be worth far more to me than any job title or salary.
When I was choosing which course to study, I wasn’t sure about what kind of job I wanted it to lead to. With no specific career goal in mind, I ended up basing my decision on how enjoyable and interesting I thought any given subject would be. After all, what would be the point in studying for a career-specific degree if I might only lose interest in it later on?
Having always enjoyed and felt that I was good at writing, I decided that literature was the most appropriate subject for me. And I’m pleased to say that four years after graduating I have no regrets about this choice. Whilst my degree course has not made my life more happy, healthy or comfortable (life is still just as complicated and I’m still struggling on just a little over minimum wage!), the knowledge and skills that I gained through the study of fiction and poetry will always be worth far more to me than any job title or salary.
Of course, some may feel that attending university without having a specific career in mind is a little extravagant considering how expensive it is. However, I strongly disagree with the perceived benefit of education being so closely tied to the salaries and professional statuses that courses can lead to. University is incredibly expensive – that’s an unfortunate fact. But if there is a desire to learn and a feeling that personal development if nothing else may benefit from it, then doesn’t that alone make education a worthwhile investment?
I will likely spend the rest of my life repaying my £20,000+ student loan. But regardless of this ever-growing debt, I’d still rather be educated in a subject that I’m passionate about than spend the rest of my life feeling as though I’ve missed out on a wonderful opportunity. Higher education isn’t something that will benefit everyone in the same way, but regardless of the jobs and wages that university can and does sometimes lead to, the benefits of learning simply for the love of it should never be underestimated.
Having never broached the subject of hidden disabilities before writing this article, I really wasn’t sure of the best way to approach it. Nor was I confident about the appropriate language to use having very little in the way of other articles to refer to. However, I was also very excited to share my story because, whilst diagnoses of dyspraxia (the hidden disability that I am affected by) is on the increase, it’s still relatively unknown compared to other specific learning disabilities. Until fairly recently, in fact, children with dyspraxia were commonly referred to as having something called ‘clumsy child syndrome’—a rather simplified term to describe a complex and wide ranging set of difficulties.
The response I tend to receive when I tell people I have it is, ‘Ooh, what’s that?’ So, for those reading this who don’t already know, dyspraxia can be defined as a common developmental disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination, as well as speech and language in both children and adults. For me it’s a condition characterised by awkwardness, muddle-headedness, and an inability to play group sports. And like all specific learning impairments, it also comes with its fair share of anxiety and embarrassment.
Like many people affected by specific learning disabilities, school was a bit of a challenging environment, made even more so (I can gather now) by a lack of diagnosis and appropriate support. Despite being good at English and the humanities throughout my school career, I have vivid memories of desperately trying to sneak a peek over the shoulders of those sitting in front of me in class, having failed to fully grasp the task at hand and feeling too scared to ask for help for fear of looking stupid in front of my peers. In particular, numbers were and still are my nemesis, proving so alien to my way of thinking that tears still begin to well at the thought of having to undertake anything more than very simple calculations.
However, as a rather hot-headed and rebellious teenager with a complicated home life, I never associated my difficulties at school with anything other than disengagement. It wasn’t until I began studying for my degree in English literature years later that I realised there may be something else going on. Whilst being fully engaged and working hard to complete my coursework on time, I felt completely overwhelmed by the workload and soon became aware that I was struggling more than my peers to keep up. At the end of my first year I sought out an assessment and was finally diagnosed with dyspraxia at the age of 26. As well as receiving a grant for specialist equipment, including a laptop installed with software to help with the planning, execution and revision of essays, I was also offered coursework extensions and extra time in exams. I strongly believe that without all of this access support I would have completed my studies with a grade well below my level of ability.
What people can’t see is the absolute dread I feel when faced with certain tasks and the big bully that lives inside of my head and tells me over and over how stupid and incapable I am.
As an adult in full-time employment, the problem I’m currently faced with is how and when to disclose my difficulties to employers. Is it best to tell them at the interview stage so that they’re aware of my access needs, or should I wait until after I’ve been accepted for a position in case my impairments work against me somehow? Well, in a recent role within the arts industry I decided not to say anything at all, until I was finally forced to disclose when my manager became frustrated and angry with the mistakes that I was making. Being invisible, dyspraxia has a habit of making those affected seem rather careless and lazy, and this can cause employers to doubt potential and, in many cases, withhold opportunities for progression. I can’t help wondering whether this would still be the case were it a visible impairment.
Part of the problem with having a hidden or invisible disability, whether it’s schizophrenia, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, anxiety, or a specific learning impairment like dyspraxia, is that you don’t necessarily look like you’re experiencing difficulties. So, as well as people asking me to explain what dyspraxia is when I tell them I have it, another common response is, ‘But you don’t strike me as having those kind of issues.’
And here’s where the heart of this article lies.
Being articulate, well-educated, and able to hide a lot of my awkwardness and anxiety means that from the outside I often appear confident and capable. However, what people can’t see is the absolute dread I feel when faced with certain tasks and the big bully that lives inside of my head and tells me over and over how stupid and incapable I am. Whilst I understand that these insecurities aren’t necessarily unique to people with learning impairments, I’m certain that experiencing difficulties with tasks and activities that other people seem to find easy does magnify the feelings of inadequacy that I experience on a day-to-day basis. And, whilst I can also appreciate that most people don’t feel confident all the time, it’s clear to me that some individuals, including myself, are far more affected by insecurity than others, whether visibly or not.
The reason I decided to focus this article on the issue of hidden disability denial is that, as well as having personal experience of having to explain and justify my own difficulties, I have recently become aware of a wider belief—which seems to have roots in the wellness community—that specific learning disabilities do not actually exist. A few weeks ago I came across an article related to this theory, and it left me feeling pretty angry. The condition it dealt with was ADHD and (without going into too much detail) the argument it tried to put across was that most cases of the condition are purposefully misdiagnosed in order to generate money for Big Pharma through the dispensing of costly medical treatments.
Now, it’s very likely that there is an element of truth to this; we all know how much money and power is tied up in the pharmaceutical industry. But what I absolutely cannot get behind is the idea that so many health care professionals across the globe are implicit in this corruption, or that the majority of people diagnosed with ADHD are merely imagining their difficulties and the benefits of the medication that is prescribed to treat the symptoms. It’s true that the numbers of children being diagnosed and medically treated for ADHD is on the rise (I’m not going to deny that medication being the first port of call is problematic), but rather than being wholly due to a money-making scam, this could also be because we now understand more than we ever have about the condition and are therefore more able to diagnose and treat it.
A shared experience amongst many of my friends is being told by their school teachers to stop being stupid and try harder in class.
This is of course an issue that will continue to be hotly debated, and I’m certainly no expert. But I strongly believe that if a child or adult is experiencing difficulties and has sought out a diagnosis then no one has the right to invalidate this by claiming that the condition doesn’t exist. A shared experience amongst many of my friends is being told by their school teachers to stop being stupid and try harder in class. Had more been known about the impairments they would later be diagnosed with this may have been a different story.
As well as invalidating the experiences of those affected by the symptoms of ADHD, the other problem with the article I read was that, whether intentionally or not, it implied that those who choose to take their medication are somehow implicit in the wrongdoings of the pharmaceutical industry. When asked, a close friend told me that after reading the article he felt guilty and ashamed to continue paying for and consuming his tablets.
However, my biggest problem with the article wasn’t so much to do with the implied misdiagnosis as it was to do with something far more insidious: the outright denial of the symptoms by which ADHD is commonly characterised. According to the author, symptoms such as lack of concentration, mood swings, hyperactivity, anxiety, and forgetfulness are not specifically related to ADHD, but a normal part of everyday life. What the article failed to grasp is the fact that it is not simply one or even a couple of symptoms that are experienced with ADHD, or any other specific learning disability. What is generally experienced is a complex set of mental and sometimes physical challenges that can have an enormous impact on an individual’s personal and professional life.
I can’t help wondering whether this article would have been accepted by the online community in the same way had it stated that wheelchair users aren’t really impaired and don’t really need their access equipment. Whether it’s a mental health issue, a neurological condition, or a specific learning disability, the impairments that hidden conditions bring can have an enormous impact on an individual’s quality of life. Rather than contributing to a positive and inclusive discussion about disability, articles like this one openly discriminate against those affected by suggesting that invisible impairments are not as complex or as valid as those that are visible.
This is just one example of the many ways that hidden disabilities are minimised and invalidated in contemporary society. And without more open discussion on the subject this sort of denial is never going to diminish. The important thing to consider when thinking about this issue is that things are not always what they seem. A person may very well look and seem as though they’re managing, but this doesn’t mean they’re not fighting an internal battle.
A documentary exploring the nature of ADHD and the neurological affects of the condition is available to view on BBC iPlayer. Those interested can watch here.