I recently started writing again, after a hiatus of more than 30 years. That is to say, up until I was about 9 years old, I used to write. I wrote a lot. As an incredibly shy, introverted, quiet child, writing was my expressive outlet. It was the one place where what was inside me got to come out in some form.
Back then, I didn’t I possess the natural social skills, charm or delicate prettiness required for popularity in the jungle that was primary school. Nor was I a confident verbal communicator. 20 years in the corporate world later in life would change all that, and for the better I believe. But at 9, all I had was a head full of deep thoughts, a heart full of girlish dreams, an HB pencil and an A4 refill pad.
At 9 years old, while the other kids would run around the classroom playing kiss-catch before school started in the mornings, I would be sitting at a table, writing. Not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I needed to. I needed to write as much as I needed to breathe. I loved to write. About anything. From princesses to cats to piano lessons to best friends to fancy-dress birthday parties to my favourite teacher. The sort of content one would expect from a guileless 9 year-old girl in 1980 in New Zealand.
One day, my favourite teacher at the time, Mrs Giddings, approached me as I was writing busily at my desk. She asked me what I was doing. I told her, quite matter-of-factly, that I was ‘writing a book’. I could just imagine how charming that might have sounded to her, coming from an awkward, bookish, 9 year-old girl. I’m not sure whether she was being polite or whether she was genuinely interested, but she asked me if I would let her read my book when I had finished it. I said yes and continued blithely on with my 26-page hand-written epic about a girl, her best friend and their two cats. The cats (who were best friends too, of course) went missing but were eventually happily found. At 9 years old, it never occurs to you that any story would have anything but a happy ending!
Half a refill pad and 2 HB pencils later, I had finished my book. I honestly hadn’t written it for anything other than my own entertainment, and had no intention of showing it to anyone else. But I had promised Mrs Giddings that I would share it with her, so I did.
I’ll never forget the conversation she had with me after she read it a few days later.
She took me aside. She wasn’t upset, but she had a very serious expression on her face. She looked me in the eye, and she said these words to me. I remember her words, almost verbatim.
“Gloria, I have read your story, and I believe that you have a gift. I believe you have a great future ahead of you as a writer. And one day, I hope to walk into a bookstore and see your name on the shelves”.
I don’t think that I fully comprehended that conversation until many years later. I don’t think it really registered to me, that here was a teacher who had seen something in me, something extremely precious. Something to be valued, encouraged and nurtured.
But at 9 years old, I neither understood nor appreciated the enormity of the possibility that I might ‘have a gift’. And I had absolutely no intention of becoming a writer. I loved it, but I didn’t see it as something I would do for a living when I grew up. Even that early in life, pragmatism had begun to supercede idealism. I knew that there was no guarantee that writing would put money in the bank. And I had already decided that when I grew up, I was going to do something that would mean I would never have to struggle or sacrifice financially. So in my mind, becoming a writer was out of the question.
So ensued a decade of study in such left-brained vocationally-friendly disciplines as maths, economics, accounting, computer science and physics. I threw myself into these studies as passionately as I’d thrown myself into my writing as a child. After the decade of study came 2 decades in the technology sector, working with top-tier blue-chip corporates the world over, eventually landing in Singapore running the Asia region for an American software company. And loving every minute of the cut-and-thrust, excitement and glamour of it all.
I have no regrets about the decisions I made, about the path I chose to take. The years of study in analytical subjects provided a balance and complement to my more right-brained creative leanings. The decades in corporate pushed me a long way out of my introverted comfort zone. I learned a lot about people after years of working and collaborating in teams, I learned how to make conversation and how to put people at ease in social settings (I learned how to ‘schmooze’!), and presenting and speaking at events and conferences became par-for-the-course.
Without those years, I would never have learned all those things or gained all that life experience. And those years have given me a lot to draw on in terms of how I see the world and how I write about it.
But now, it’s time. It’s time to return to my first love. Writing.
I’m not ‘giving up my day job’ so to speak. I’m now using my years in corporate to consult on a contract basis as work arises, and the beauty of that is that I can negotiate how much I want to work. The rest of the week when I am not working, is for me – for the things that are important to me. For my family and friends, for my volunteer work, and for my writing.
I don’t know if Mrs Giddings was right about me having a gift. But I do know that if God can use my writing as a way to encourage others even in some small way, then that is what I want to do. That is where my heart is.
So Mrs Giddings, wherever you are, I want to thank you, for believing in me when I had absolutely no idea I possessed anything worth believing in. I know it’s 30-something years on and I have taken a circuitous route, but please know that I never forgot what you said to me. It made a huge impression. And I’m not sure if you will one day walk into a bookstore and see my name on the shelves, but perhaps the 2012 equivalent might be to see my name on my blog.