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On saying no to fresh opportunities

Sir Richard Branson was all about ‘fake it till you make it’ when he was younger, and while there’s power in saying no to something new, it can also feel like cowardice.

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This morning I could have been sketchnoting a conference, but I knocked back the chance. Even though the organiser had taken into account my concerns over doing it and was fine with me having a crack anyway. Why did I say no? Was it because I would’ve had to get up before 9am?

Partially. But it’s also because I had visions of me sitting up there, scribbling way too slowly and making an entire mess of the whole thing. Because sketchnoting is a particular skill that requires conceptual planning as well as thinking on your feet. It made me picture those TV ads where someone’s daughter is brought in to do the voice over, and everyone suddenly realises it’s a lot more difficult that just reading a script.

(I mean, I do have an idiosyncratic note-taking style that’s a bit prettier than the usual. But I don’t think it’s universally useful.)

There’s a power in saying no to something new, but it often feels like cowardice in a world where we’re constantly encouraged to spread our wings, broaden our horizons and memorise inspirational quotes from Branson about how he essentially spent his early years lying to people with money about his skills. Why shouldn’t I arrogantly slide into a chair and have a crack at something I know other, more talented artists do with grace, poise and adorable results?

So now I’m sitting here doodling between articles, thinking about how I could have been drawing these mutant creatures on the clock. Monetising my inability to listen to a speaker without sketching grotesques and couching catchy thoughts in speech bubbles. Switching between the four colours of my pen on a whim, and forcing other people to think like me.

That’s the mental pendulum of envisioning any unusual venture when you’re an anxious narcissist, of course. On the one hand, abject failure. On the other, immediate overwhelming success and a fresh deity in a firmament. Everything is too basic and too difficult to imagine happening all at once.

It’s enough to drive a man to draw. But only in my personal notebook, for future versions of me to pore over and wonder what those abstract shapes were meant to represent.

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