Failing and Quitting In the Best Way Possible

July 13, 2021

Joe Holmes (he/him/his) is a writer, presenter, actor, and songwriter. In addition to studying creative writing in school, he has also hosted his own radio show, as well as continuing to interview artists and people of interest. After receiving the Essex Newspaper’s Award for Communications for his editorial work, Joe turned to video interviews. Joe uses his platform and love of storytelling to share the truths that unite us as humans, in order to build a braver world.

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Joe Holmes

It was all going well until that familiar feeling grabbed hold of my heart and told it to panic. Sitting in the driver’s seat, I was trying to get my body to stop making mistakes that my mind knew better than to make. Something wasn’t connecting. My shoulders were tense, and my self-consciousness drowned me in sweat. I wanted to face myself and say, “What’s wrong with you? You’re better than this.”

I was used to being “better than this.” I can stand up in front of lots of people and I’m told what a good presenter I am; I can write and I’m told how nuanced it is, I can interview someone and I’m told that there’s a new depth; but I can’t accept the mistakes I make when I’m driving. Writing, presenting, songwriting, being academic are all things that are considered extra talents that impress people with an appreciation that doesn’t translate into understanding. Driving, buying an ice cream and asking someone to hang out are all basic things that the majority of people do without a second thought but terrify me more than broadcasting on live radio. My mistakes felt like a failure because I could do all of these things that weren’t necessary, but I struggled with what other people perceived to be the basics.

The truth is, although the things I loved weren’t important to others, they were vital parts of my existence and gave me the meaning I needed to get up in the morning. There’s never been a time when I’ve written something and not found a typo or interviewed someone and not muddled by words.

How could I learn to accept the mistakes I make when driving just like those mistakes? First of all, I had to accept that how we react to certain situations isn’t always rational. Once I had accepted that it would be a challenge, I did the mental work I needed to be prepared. I didn’t pass the test. I second-guessed one decision and that action alone was my downfall. Although I failed, I accepted it because I was able to understand why. Compared to my first attempt, I was more confident, more relaxed, and more in control. I made mistakes, I failed, but I accept it’s something that takes more resilience. That slight improvement and acceptance didn’t change the outcome of the test, but it changed everything about how I felt. To me, that was more important.

A couple of days later, battling to maintain a positive outlook, I quit my dream job of hosting my own radio show. Why did I choose to relinquish my privileged position to broadcast at a peak time every weekday? Because I refused to relinquish my ability to choose whether or not I played the music of an alleged child sexual abuser. If you’re wondering how on earth this situation played out, then you’re thinking the same as me. Major radio stations suspended the broadcasting of this artist’s repertoire in early 2019, only to be resumed in the instance that a trial found the artist innocent. However, the station I worked for in 2021, demanded that presenters continue to play the artist and warned us not to swap it out. When the artist appeared on my play log in the past, I’d removed them because I didn’t want to associate the artist with me, my show or the station. I could not follow the station’s advice to be quiet, move on and not mention it because it went against my values and integrity. It wasn’t just a music choice, it was a choice of whether to take survivors of sexual abuse seriously or not. I knew that I wanted to make a stand and immediately wrote a statement quitting my dream job.

People praised me for making a bold and risky move but, in my mind, it was kindness to myself. When you stay true to your values, you feel a lot lighter, you fall asleep easier, and you wake up with self-respect. Well aware that victims of abuse have their right to decide taken from them, I made the decision not to stand by something I disagree with.

When I tried to sleep, I was buzzing with new ideas, I remembered who I was, and I had more time to spend being myself. I woke up to so many messages of support. Several of them were from survivors of sexual abuse assuring me that it’s so much more than a music choice, it’s a choice to stand up and take victims seriously. One message read: “I cannot begin to describe what it does to the traumatized child inside of me that you’re doing this. She literally never experienced any kind of solidarity or protection.”

Recently, in the UK, there was an outpouring of people demanding that men do more to combat domestic and sexual abuse. As a man, who felt disgusted and shocked by these crimes, I struggled to understand what doing more looked like. But when I was told by a radio station to support an artist that has had multiple women and girls come forward with horrendous accusations, I figured it out. Doing more means taking the anger and turning it into the bravery needed to call out behaviour that fuels a culture of sexual violence.

Failing and quitting is one way of looking at my week, but I don’t see it like that. I learned about who I was, the things I’m good at, the things I struggle with, and the values I hold. I practiced kindness to myself by accepting the mistakes I made, while noting my improvements, and I practiced kindness to myself by honouring my beliefs. We all fail and quit, but we don’t have to see it like that. I am proud of failing and quitting in the best way possible.

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