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  • Writer's picturePaul Burston

“I’m wasted here, aren’t I?”

Do you ever get the feeling you’re being undervalued? I know I do. And when I do I tend to make a joke of it and think of Susie Blake’s brilliant performance as the bitchy continuity announcer on Victoria Wood’s As Seen on TV. In one episode she announces the British premiere of a rarely performed Spanish opera, speaks perfect Spanish, then adds pointedly, “I’m wasted here, aren’t I?”

I don’t speak perfect Spanish. I can’t hold a conversation in any foreign language. I’m the boy who scored 9 per cent in my German exam. But there are some things I know I’m good at. I know because people tell me so and because the evidence is often right before my eyes – a packed event, a happy audience, a sea of smiling faces, an outpouring of positive comments on social media. Or maybe it’s a glowing book review on Amazon, or an example of what we used to call fan mail.

Like many authors I know, I sometimes suffer from imposter syndrome. Partly it’s because people from my background aren’t supposed to make it in the largely middle-class worlds of publishing and the arts. I grew up in working-class South Wales and went to what some would call “a bog standard comprehensive” before attending a college of higher education in Twickenham. I also have a masters degree from what was then known as North London Polytechnic. I didn’t go to Oxbridge. I didn’t study creative writing. I don’t have any kind of vocational training. Everything I’ve done since, I learned on the job. Activist. Journalist. TV presenter. Author. Producer and host of live literary events.

Like a lot of people from less privileged backgrounds, I have a keen sense of when I’m being talked down to. Add to that the sometimes subtle forms of discrimination often faced by LGBTQ+ people and you might say that I can be a little sensitive. Maybe so. But usually with good reason. One thing I’ve discovered over the years is that my gut instincts are rarely wrong. 

These days, I know my own worth. This wasn’t always the case. For years I struggled with internalised homophobia and low self-esteem stemming from childhood trauma. Surprisingly enough, those were the years I spent literally getting wasted. (As I write this, I’ve been clean and sober for 14 months and one day. It all begins with one day.)

But I’ve changed a lot since then. I’ve done the work. And I’ve been around long enough to know that sometimes you need to stand up for yourself – because if you don’t, nobody else will. I’m damned if I’ll let anyone treat me as if I’m somehow beneath them or fail to show me the respect I deserve. 

When you know you’re doing your best but your efforts aren’t appreciated, it’s time to move on. Joking aside, if you honestly feel “I’m wasted here”, you probably are. Get out. Start over. If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that time is too short and far too precious to squander on people who don’t recognise your true value.

As the late, great Nina Simone once said, “You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served.” The same goes for respect, at home or work.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Change can be scary. But you only get one chance at life. Don’t waste it.

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