I remember it as clear as the image of the girl using wipes to refresh her vagina in the back of her car in those stupid Libra ads. And I still feel equally horrified.

I was sitting with my mum at a long veneer table, my English teacher faced us. She was an eccentric woman, like many English teachers are. We hadn’t really clicked. To this day I believe she thought I was vacuous. Many may still think I am. She was speaking slowly because I apparently was so troubled by the English language that she needed to enunciate her words clearly for me.

Or maybe I was just hearing it all in slow motion so I could replay the encounter in my head over and over for years to come.

She was telling us that she thought perhaps I would be better off not studying English in year 12, that it wasn’t my subject, that writing was not for me. I would never write for a living. I’d struggle, so best I quit while I had other options.

I didn’t. We went against her advice and instead of struggling, as she envisioned was my path, I got a near perfect score. An encouraging and inspirational teacher saw something in me and lit the flames of creativity, instead of stomping on them. I still remember her pulling me aside in the playground to tell me she thought my free prose in my exam was one of the best she’d read. I then went on to pursue a career in journalism.

Every time I think I’m crap at anything, I visualise her face. It spurs me on. And then I replay that moment I nearly let my desire be crushed, by the naysayer. I let her words swirl in my head. I take her lack of vision for me, the put downs, and I use them to push me further along my path as a writer. Her rejection was the best thing she ever did for me.

Soon, I’m going to take up my role as a volunteer mentor with the Smith Family. I will spend 19 weeks chatting with a student online. I am not there to be another teacher, but I will draw from the ones who have inspired me, not the ones who tried to dampen my spirit. I am not there to tell he or she what they should be doing. I will simply listen and engage with them. I will let them know that when you’re 16 you will encounter people who will try and push you into a path you know in your gut isn’t right. They will make you feel inadequate and small. They will try and tell you they know you more than you know yourself. Sometimes this is correct. Yet, when it comes to the career you pursue you must always trust yourself. Push ahead with what you love, not what people expect of you. Work hard. And when the knock backs come, learn from them, use the failure to fuel the fire.

Keep chasing the opportunities to get paid to do what you love. Whatever you do – do not live in fear of failure. Do not get sucked into the vortex of not being brave enough to break out of a job you hate. Life is yours for the taking, grab it with both hands and dance.

What drives you? Or have you got the handbrake on?

bigwords x