Lessons from you: reaching out to a virtual stranger

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As a writer, I partly put words together for the fun of it, but mostly want to catapult those ideas into an invisible crowd of strangers. I want to reach out to people because I think that’s kind of nice. To share and share alike. As a species, it’s our ability to share knowledge and  communicate that’s helped us evolve. The newspaper, the phone, the TV, the Internet. To be some small part of that, to make sure these incredible inventions are put to good use, is paramount to the success of our existence, don’t you think? Both globally and individually.

So when opportunist Rosie reached out to me, having read something I wrote for the very talented Olivia over at The London Ladybird, I wasn’t just flattered, I felt relieved. Relieved for a generation of “sharers” who risk barely communicating at all. The Internet could send us one way or the other, and it’s our responsibility to make sure we stay connected. Perhaps more than we’ve ever connected before.

So, let me hand you over to Rosie of Thinkers Brew to tell our valuable and quite lovely lesson on reaching out, and the positive repercussions of taking a shot in the dark and connecting with a stranger.

THE IMPORTANCE OF REACHING OUT, BY ROSE MUSSEN

“When I was nearing the end of my degree in English and Creative Writing, it seemed that my lecturers realised they’d been a bit stingy with career advice. I remember going to a hastily organised talk given by some men who worked at a local publisher. It was utterly abysmal. One of the speakers made a reference to Peter Pan and how it was written by an author called ‘C.L Lewis’. Not even C.S Lewis, who obviously didn’t write Peter Pan. C.L Lewis. I could feel my best friend cringing next to me (she had recently completed her dissertation on J.M Barrie). That is quite a good example of the calibre of career knowledge I left university with. That, and being told by a creative writing lecturer that the beauty of being an author is that ‘you can have two jobs!’ – needless to say, it didn’t instil much confidence in me.

Fast forward two years to me working in hospital and running the administrative side of the world’s largest randomised surgical trial. I graduated with a degree in English and worked full time in obesity surgery research. Possibly the most irrelevant career path I could have gone down. But with student overdrafts to pay off and experience to gain, it served me well. Obviously I began to get itchy feet but had so few ideas of which career path to go down, I felt a bit stuck. I knew I wanted to write, that much was clear, but I didn’t want to write novels or poetry, which were the only focuses within the creative writing modules of my degree.

A friend had suggested to me a while ago that I might enjoy being a copywriter but I knew very little of what it entailed. Until I read a series curated by the amazing Olivia for her blog The London Ladybird. The series is called The Job Centre and my partner Pearl wrote a contributing post for it, so I thought I’d have a nosy at what other people had written and that’s how I came across Corin! Her post about being a copywriter shed light on a whole new kind of writing that I could do. I cast my mind back to winning a Double Decker chocolate bar in primary school for producing the best piece of persuasive writing and decided that writing copy was the career for me.

When I landed my first interview for a junior copywriter role at a marketing agency in Bath, I was thrilled but incredibly daunted by the prospect of it. I wasn’t sure who to go to for advice. It was a job in a completely different industry to mine and I didn’t know any copywriters. I plucked up the courage to send Corin an email explaining that I had read her piece for The Job Centre and asked her if she could offer me any tips. Her response was invaluable. She highlighted different ways that I could prepare, from producing a portfolio of writing that I had done in my free time, to arming myself with examples of bloggers and writers I admired. Corin also highlighted some important questions for me to ask that were things I wouldn’t have thought to enquire about because I wasn’t working in the industry. Helpful things like ‘how will I be briefed?’ and ‘what are the processes around delivering copy?’ all proved to be useful questions to ask in the interview because I was able to gain a really good insight into the role and the agency.

I’m thrilled to say that I got the job. I’m now working as a junior copywriter and absolutely loving it. Reaching out to Corin, a complete stranger, massively paid off and helped me secure a job that transpired to be completely the right job for me. By far the most helpful career advice I have ever received came not from University but as a result of making hopeful contact with someone and picking their brain.

If you’re unsure about making a jump into an unfamiliar industry or simply progressing within your current area, I can’t stress enough how much value there is in pinging an email to someone with a job you admire. They may not be able to offer you a definitive path to progression but they’ll probably be able to help and damn well (probably) won’t be a publisher who tells you that Peter Pan was written by C.L Lewis.”

Just imagine what reaching out to someone might do for you…

Read more of Rosie’s beautifully honest musings here.

If, like Rosie, you’d like some tips on becoming a copywriter (or if there’s anything you love a piece of unbiased advice on) please don’t hesitate to comment below or get in touch.

 

 

Lessons from 2016? Follow your heart.

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This time last year I was at an elephant sanctuary just south of Bangkok (WFFT), as far away from home as I’d ever been and with six whole months of barely planned travel ahead of me. Utter bliss.

Months before however, I’d gone through a strange, unexpected and terrifying phase of being scared of pretty much everything. OCD, they said. Which actually made perfect sense.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy teaches you how to realign your thoughts, but travel puts that theory into practice. The most important lesson I’ve learnt this year? To just bloody go with it. Like I always used to. To let go. To take things as they come. To trust in the order of events. Some things are beyond all control, and I’m so grateful I’ve learnt to believe that again.

Anyway, comfort zone well and truly out of sight, my dreams quite literally started to come true. The less I worried about all the stuff I couldn’t control, the happier and calmer I felt. My fears melted away one by one. With every new challenge I set, from white water rafting to trusting in perfect strangers, I remembered that risk-taking and relishing in fear makes you feel alive. Not checking the front door is locked 15 times a day. I went from hiding in my basement flat in Brixton to scuba diving with giant manta rays in Komodo.

I made myself vulnerable to the world, and it gave me everything I could wish for in return. Powdery beaches and crystal-blue water, magical sunsets, breathtaking views, powerful waterfalls, deliciously exciting food, new friendships, and being proposed to under the stars by the person I love. I swore to myself that I would never fear the world again.

And then halfway through our trip, I received the worst phone call of my life. My wonderful Grandad died. With hardly a week’s warning. We flew home for the funeral. Devastated in every way possible.

I could easily have reverted back to old habits. Blamed my grandad’s death on my “reckless” trust in life. When you have OCD you honestly feel like your thoughts have the power to affect reality. Like, if I’d just worried a little bit more, maybe nothing bad would have happened. But without the carefree living, none of the good stuff would have happened either. So I forced myself to carry on in my new-found frame of mind. To find the light in the dark. Life is nothing but a series of highs and lows, after all. You can’t have one without the other.

Whether it’s Trump, Brexit, the tragedies in Aleppo or the loss of yet another talented artist. 2016, like every year, has had its lows. I urge you to counter these awful things by being as actively positive as you can be, whether it’s persuing your goals, volunteering your time or loving someone unconditionally. Better yourself. That is the only way we can ever hope for a better world.

Flying back to Asia after the funeral was perhaps an even bigger turning point than travelling in the first place. Having faith in the face of heartbreak and grief is really bloody hard, but it will change how you feel about everything. Nothing can spur you on more than your own bravery, and nothing will reward you more. 2016, I will never forget you.

 

 

 

 

 

Like Her Type has been nominated for a Leibster award

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Like Her Type has been nominated for a Liebster award, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you so much to Rosie over at La Grenouille Anglaise for the incredibly thoughtful nomination and, of course, for taking the time to discover my blog. It means more than you might think.

I think about my blog pretty much every day. I write posts on my phone, I conjure up what to say in my head and how to build relatable stories around anecdotes and passing thoughts. The ideas come easily, so why have I stopped posting so much?

It’s a combination of things. Occasionally I worry that I’m sharing too much information. Plus my Macbook died a few months ago and posting on your phone has its issues. But mostly, I can’t seem to find the time at the moment (‘find’ it, like its lurking somewhere in a dark corner, covered in dust?) and I feel guilty every day when I go too long without posting. Like I’m failing someone I care about. And it’s purely because I love doing it. Not having time to do something you love is not ok.

And then Rosie nominated Like Her Type for a Liebster Award. It lifted my spirits to say the least. The Liebster Award was created so that emerging bloggers could help each other gain exposure and recognition.

Like Her Type is about connecting people through the life experiences we all share, turning them into valuable lessons that might help someone else in need of honest advice.

The Liebster award is built on connecting chains of bloggers. It serves as a reminder that there really is a “social” element to social media. One that helps people to connect on a personal, useful level that we often don’t experience face to face.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I contemplated giving up my blog because I feared I wasn’t connecting people in the way I hoped, and this incredibly thoughtful nomination proves otherwise.

A stranger read my thoughts and felt compelled to share with other strangers to benefit them in some small way. And that is kind of beautiful, isn’t it?

The Rules of The Liebster Award

1. Thank the person/blog who nominated you and post a link to their blog on your blog.
2. Display the award on your blog. This can be done by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a widget (note: the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog/post).
3. Answer the 10 questions about yourself that your nominating blogger chooses for you.
4. Nominate blogs that you feel deserve the award. These must be new bloggers (less than two years blogging) who have fewer than 1000 followers.
5. Create a list of questions for your nominated bloggers to answer.
6. List these rules in your post (feel free to cut & paste!)
7. Inform the blogs that you nominated that they have been awarded the award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it.

Question Time

Great questions Rosie – here are my answers.

Q: City break or countryside escape?

A: Oooohhh that’s actually a really tough question. Living in London, there comes a point every now and again that I crave fresh air and greenery. Like an environmental detox. There’s something incredibly humbling about staring at a powerful waterfall or the sun setting over a vast canyon or calm sea. You feel insignificant in the best way possible. The scale and wonder of nature often helps put worries and problems into perspective. It’s so important to switch off mentally every now and again and exploring a busy city simply doesn’t allow you to do that. However, once my batteries are recharged, I always welcome the excitement of a new city with open arms. Bright lights, bars, historical architecture, museums, great food, new cultures. The appeal of the city is often just as strong.

Q: Which country could you never tire of visiting?

A: Japan. Without a doubt. I was lucky enough to spend three weeks there in April this year and I cannot wait to go back. Japan is an astounding place to travel. The people, the culture, the history, the landscape, the buildings, THE FOOD, the nightlife, the authenticity, did I mention the food? If you’re after a culture shock, Japan is like nowhere I’ve ever encountered. Every day was an adventure. One moment we were lost in a labyrinth of bars in Tokyo’s Golden Gai, and the next we were looking for snow monkeys and skiing the Japanese Alps. I cannot recommend this mesmerising country enough.

Q: What’s your favourite dessert? (Because let’s face it, the last course is the best one).

It would probably be some sort of chocolate cake, with raspberries and cream. Oooo or apple crumble with loads and loads of custard.

Q: If you were your country’s Prime Minister/ President, what’s the first law you would pass?

I would propose a three-day weekend. I’m all about the work-life balance, and I think fours days on, three days off would work perfectly…

Q: Which holiday destination do you think is over-hyped?

Oh God, definitely Phi Phi in Thailand. Don’t get me wrong, I love a party, but give give me Ibiza over Phi Phi any day. Phi Phi is kind of fun, in a way that Magaluf is fun if you’re a 16-year-old boy, but it smells, ‘The Beach’ is a tourist trap, the food isn’t exactly Thailand’s finest and the bars are cheesy as hell. I’ve heard there are nice parts of Phi Phi, but if you’re travelling on a budget you’ll never find them.

The internet. Best or worst thing to happen to humanity?

Where is your “happy place” and why?

What inspires you to connect with strangers?

If you could travel back in time, where would you visit first?

What’s your biggest fear?

Why your tattoo demonstrates a beautiful faith in others

Although I got my first tattoo two weeks before the US election results, it’s only recently dawned on me how important it is to have faith at a time when it would be much easier to withdraw from the unknown. When I read the news at the moment, all I want to do is withdraw from civilisation and live on the fringes of the Amazon rainforest. When what I should be doing, what all of us should be doing, is standing up and shouting about what we believe in louder than ever. For this reason, my tattoo (and yours) means more to me than I fully anticipated; it demonstrates complete and utter trust in a perfect stranger to create a part of you, a hidden message to the world, which is kind of a big deal when you think about it.

The very notion of having faith in others might seem like a fragile thing after the catastrophes of 2016. Many of us have hoped and prayed for an outcome that the unexpected majority passionately prevented. It’s a strange thing, to feel like democracy has screwed you over. To be reminded, cruelly, how very little control you have. To feel like a minority, to fill negative space, when you were so convinced all of humanity should surely be on your side.

Does a majority vote make it the right decision? Of course not. But is there proof that you were right either? God no. Because the truth is, nobody on this earth knows the direction we should be heading to reach the best-possible outcome. After all, rock bottom can only mean a upwards climb ahead. Brexit and Trump. It’s impossible to digest, but digest we must.

It kind of helps to look at it this way: they weren’t  votes for evil (although the racist, sexist, fascist, homophobic undertones are hard to ignore, I know). Most of the votes were cries for help. For change. The outcome might seem horrifying now, but it could be the catalyst that people like you and I need to actually start paying attention. Have you invested a greater interest in politics, the economy, and the future of the world since these shocking revelations began to unfold? ME TOO. That must be a positive thing, right?

It’s amazing how far you can push yourself to cooperate with the world when you have to. Look at the brave souls who lived through WW1 or WW2, or, amazingly enough, through both. We feel hard done by now, but in all honestly, most of us have no idea how it feels to be well and truly fucked over by the system and dictated by the elite. Trump might look worryingly like the next Hitler, but we have to believe he isn’t. We have to have faith in the order of things. We have to let this shit unfurl before we come to grand conclusions. Because if I’ve learned anything over the last year or so, it’s that worrying about the future doesn’t solve a thing.

I’m writing this post because I want to talk about putting faith in a stranger on a personal level, and how it might just help us to maintain the crucial level of trust we need to be able to hold humanity close. Little gestures have big consequences, maybe we’ll understand that now more than ever. So rather than fearing the stranger that may or may not be on your side, remember there is more that binds us than our political standpoint. I will never understand why someone voted for Brexit or Trump, but I sympathise with a nation that truly believed that was their best option. I’m devastated at the sheer amount of hate that fuelled these campaigns, but I flat out refuse to be the hater. I will never add to that.

So erm, what’s the tattoo got to do with it?

I always dreamed of having a tattoo, but I never actually thought I’d get one. Which is a sad kind of dilemma when you think about it. Wanting something so much but not actually having the balls to make it happen. I let the fear of regret get in the way. This frame of mind is pretty much the opposite of how I decided to live my life last year when I headed off around the world in a determined flurry of free-spiritedness. It wasn’t supposed to be a temporary thing, to worry less. To make stuff happen and feel alive. So on 22nd October 2016, I got my first tattoo.

It symbolises even more than the painting in my Grandparents house it was based on. It demonstrates a shift in my frame of mind. A symbol of change, freedom and identity. Something I can hold close forever in an ever-changing world. Sometimes we need to be bold and take risks to feel alive. That’s just human nature. But ultimately, we crave the familiar. Your tattoo probably represents both.

Aside from my tattoo reminding me why people often go to extremes to gain a sense of control, it also serves as a beautiful declaration of putting my body (and the way it will look for the rest of my life) in the trust of a complete and utter stranger.

Well,  Martha Smith isn’t exactly a stranger any more. I couldn’t recommend this talented lady enough. She perfectly captured the inspiration I sent her, and now I have the first and only thing I know will be mine forever. The permanency of tattoos once scared me much in the same way that change did. What if something goes wrong that I can’t go back and fix? Having finally learned how to worry less, it kind of struck me that there’s so much comfort to be found in both the tie of forever and the opportunity change presents, if only your interpretation will allow for it.

So I guess this post is an attempt at comfort, and a plea to keep the faith in the little things you do if the bigger picture is too hard to take right now. Give up your seat on the train, smile at passers by, and hey, maybe even trust someone enough to get that tattoo you keep thinking about. Because the more intimately we all interact, the closer we’ll come to understanding how a nation can become so divided. We’re all in this together, after all.

You can find Martha Smith at Xotica in North Finchley, London.

Here’s a little look at some of her wonderful work: http://marthaellensmith.tumblr.com/

 

A lesson on confidence, health and hungover Sundays


How introverted are you? Enough to notice visible effects on your confidence? Your health? Your drinking habits?

If like me, you’re the secret kind-of introvert (going above and beyond every single day to come across as anything but shy because you annoy yourself so much), you’ll appreciate the, erm, interesting challenge I faced recently. I was with almost-strangers (albeit incredibly lovely almost-strangers), non-stop, away for two days on a work training programme. Endless networking, dinner, a hotel, presentations, name badges, the works. Hell, basically.

As I stood up to do a presentation with my new group of mates, I couldn’t help but notice the subtle shaky hands of pretty much everyone in my group, despite their confident, assuring voices. I wondered just how many people in the room felt exactly like me. Shy on the inside, determined to hide it, drained by the unnatural performance. I felt so bloody tired the whole time and I knew exactly why. Introverts recharge their energy levels by being alone, while extroverts tend to feel energised by socialising. So in a group of 25 people, it was probable that half of us were becoming more and more fatigued, while the other half were actually gaining energy. There was no ‘alone time’, other than peeing and sleeping. I must have gone to the bathroom at least 10 times just to get it together. Which can’t be right.

I wonder if people persons (people people?) are more likely to succeed in life than people who prefer their own company. Actually, I don’t wonder. It seems pretty obvious. If you live by ‘the system’, which in my experience means working in a busy, open-plan office, competing to have your voice heard in meetings and constantly networking,  then anyone with introverted tendencies is going to have to put on a self-sacrificing show if they want to do well. You could say I’m in the wrong job, but I’d say writing is pretty spot on for an introvert. 

What I’m getting at is that over the last three months (exactly three months since I started my new job) I have felt more tired, drained, wiped out, sapped of energy, dead practically, than I can last remember. My job is challenging and interesting, sometimes I work late and often I work through lunch, but it’s nowhere near as taxing as the results seem to suggest. Not the job itself anyway. I’ve kind of realised that it’s actually the whole ‘wearing a different hat at work’ thing that’s done it. Thanks to years of repressing my shyness, my faux confidence comes as naturally to me as my desire to be alone. But when it’s switched on 24/7, my poor introvert-style energy levels start to wear thin.

Then the weekend comes and I treat my self to a teeny bit of wine. And sometimes dancing because I have forgotten how tired I am.

Hungover Sundays.

And the cycle of tiredness continues.

It has to stop.

Ok, so my introverted nature isn’t directly damaging my health, but my extreme fatigue and desire to drink away my stresses isn’t exactly a healthy bi-product. I’m in no way inclined to take on a more reserved personality at work (or ever), so I’m somewhat forced to address this whole drinking thing. My sister has been training to run a half marathon and says she can notice a difference in her performance after just one drink the night before. This scares me a bit.

Let me make this clear, I’m by no means an alcoholic. I only really drink at the weekends. But I will hold my hands up and say I’m pretty alcohol dependent. I would really struggle to give it up. I like drinking. A lot.

What I’ve stopped enjoying is devoting every other Sunday to my sofa.

Another product of having demanding job is the horrifying realisation of how precious, rare and easily wasted your free time is. Precious enough to have a break from blogging (it’s been a while, I know), but also precious enough to consider sacking off the pub in favour of something more rewarding.

Or maybe I’m just getting old.

All I know is that being an introvert has never held me back, but being hungover certainly has (again see lack of blogging).

Believe it or not, you have far more control over your personality than you might think. Throw a hefty hangover into the mix and you’re just putting another barrier between you and the person you really want to be. Drinking might help you to feel confident and stress-free at the time, but it shits all over the long game.

Blogger, Steph Style, a good friend of mine, recently wrote a really insightful post about how she overcame her shyness. She’s one of the most productive, time efficient, go-getters I know. She’s also naturally shy on the inside like me (and so many of us) yet never ever comes across as anything but enthusiastic and outgoing. She works in PR. Not your average job for an introvert. Because really, in more ways than you might dare to believe, your life is your choice. Read her post here.

And here are my 5 tips on being confident for introverts:

1. Ignore the voice in your head that automatically says ‘no’ every time someone asks if you’d like to meet up. Give ‘yes’ a chance and you’ll build up evidence for why it’s usually a good idea. It becomes easier every time, trust me. Nobody looks back and thinks ‘I’m so glad I said no to all those fun things I was invited to.’

2. Stop overthinking what to say in a group conversation. Nobody analyses your words like you do. Better to put your thoughts out there than sit there all quiet. Concentrate on listening to what other people are saying rather than indulging that internal monologue in your head that’s louder than the interesting people around you.

3. Don’t play with your hair, bite your lip, fidget in your seat or hunch your back. Stand tall, make eye contact with people, say hello to everyone you vaguely know, ask questions, be conscious of speaking a fraction louder of what comes naturally.

4. Make an effort with your appearance. When you know you look your best, confidence becomes a lot more accessible.

5. Know when you’ve reached your limited for socialising. Take a moment, an evening or a weekend to recharge your batteries.

And recharge is exactly what I’m taking the time to do right now. You can only push your mind and your body so far. Recognising when it’s time to have a few weeks off drinking, or some time to yourself to just relax is incredibly important for your health.

You’ll be amazed how much more productive you can be.

Lessons to 16-year-old me

pink toilets like her type 16 year old me

Maybe it’s because I turned the grand old age of 27 yesterday, or maybe it’s because 2016 has brought about the most growing up I have EVER done. I’m ENGAGED for God’s sake. I just can’t stop thinking about how much can happen in a decade.

This has got to be the most distanced I have ever felt from my teenage self. Particularly me at 16, who thought she was really cool and knew everything, but who had never experienced much of anything and had the world’s worst hair cut. There are so many things I wish I’d known then, but am secretly quite glad I didn’t because the journey is hilarious, moving and valuable to look back on. I have learned so much it’s actually quite disturbing. I feel like a completely different person, in the best way imaginable.

So I guess this message is for anyone – 16 or not – who’s struggling to picture themselves in the future. There’s a good chance that in 10 years time you will be completely unrecognisable and sometimes this is a blessing. Do not be afraid to change as you age. Learn from every experience and it will shape you into something more resilient, understanding and wise. As a 27-year old, I empathise more with everyone I knew at school whose parents were divorced. It’s hard to take as an adult, and must have been impossible to digest as a child. You were going through something traumatic. Tremendous upheaval. I get it now. The saddest things help us to reconnect in some indirect way eventually.

All I know is that I can look back and smile at 16-year-old me, but I no longer know her well enough for a tearful embrace. We are different, we are grown apart and we are much happier that way; existing not as each other’s shadow but as something amicably separated. The past, after all, is a separate entity to the present and the future is a complete and utter stranger. So here’s some advice from one stranger to another. Here’s 10 lessons to 16-year-old me.

1. Save your love

Sometimes first love lasts forever, and sometimes you find something much, much better. You’ll think of him/her, sure. That’s ok, but mostly you’ll learn how it feels to have your heart broken and you’ll become a better person for it. At 16 I fell in love, at 17 I thought love was mostly about playing games, at 20 I was cheated on, at 22 I learned the hard way never to date a friend. Then I found him. And I realised it was all just building up to meeting that person. It was worth every horrible breakup. Happiness rarely lies in settling for a relationship filled with secrets and doubts. Give things time to unfold before you give up on finding love.

2. Think carefully about your career

Although I love my job, I still wish I’d thought about my career options a lot more carefully at school. I knew I wanted to write but I didn’t know how that translated to an actual career if you weren’t, like, an author. I didn’t know what a copywriter was or how much it paid. I knew nothing about marketing, sales, SEO, or CRM. They literally don’t teach you the things you could really do with knowing. I thought ‘I’ll be a fashion journalist’, and then got sick of working for free in the hope that it might pay off eventually.

3. Use the Internet for something other than videos of cats

Dear all 16 year olds of today, I know that careers advice is still incredibly shit 10 years down the line but you do have this wonderful thing called WiFi. Believe it or not, we still had dial up Internet when I was 16, and that meant not being able to use the Internet and the home phone at the same time. I mostly chose the phone. Or MSN messenger. And back then mobile phones were literally just mobile phones. With no 3G or Wifi. Ever. Whaaaat? Crazy I know. Take full advantage of your nifty information-filled phones – the choices you make now really do affect the rest of your life.

4. Stop comparing yourself to other people

At 16 I was obsessed with labelling myself as something, probably because I had no idea what category I was supposed to fit into. I felt like I knew who I was at school, but then I went to Uni and I wasn’t top of the class or well known anymore. I was average. Competing to stand out at Uni when you come from a small town and a shit school, and even harder when you eventually try make it as a writer in London. My advice? Don’t rush your identity. It forms with experience, the people you meet, the places you visit, the books you read, the films you watch, the shit stuff life throws at you. Be interested in things and fight for your cause. Your signature look and persona will materialise eventually.

5. Be kind to yourself, and to others

Don’t compare yourself to charismatic extroverts when you’re the opposite, don’t force yourself to wear clothes you’ve copied from someone else, stop thinking everyone is prettier, cooler and cleverer than you. And equally, never assume you’re better than someone. Sometimes you might be, but mostly you’re not. There will always be someone out there who is much better at something than you. It’s called competition. It makes you want to be better. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and when you’re struggling, don’t be too proud to learn from other people.

6. Thinner/prettier/richer doesn’t = happier

At School and Uni, I genuinely thought that if I was just a bit thinner, with clearer skin and better clothes I would be happy, like, forever. Obviously these things can make us feel more confident, but they’re so superficial we take them for granted almost instantly, and that longing can only be replaced by something else depending entirely on your own vanity to work. It’s a bad circle to get stuck in. As you get older, you really do discover what makes you happy, like hearing live music with friends, elaborate family meals, sunsets in exotic places, recognition for working hard, cuddling up in bed when it’s raining, finishing a great book, the love from your pets, or just a plain old cup of tea in your favouritemug. These wonderful, familiar things are what we must cling to in our darkest moments, not perfect hair or pristine teeth.

7. Don’t long for a life of sunshine and rainbows

I grew out of puppy fat, acne and terrible hairstyles but my happiness didn’t blossom in the same way. It became far more complicated than I ever would have imagined. And that’s just how is it. I was a very fortunate teenager, and not at all equipped for some of the things life would throw my way some 10 years later, but I know from the bottom of my heart that prettier/skinnier whatever does not make you happier. If that was all you had, all any of us had, the world would be an awful, boring place. Treasure your friends, work hard, say yes to opportunities, support your family, and be grateful for what you have. That is where true happiness lies.

8. Look after your body

I’m still learning how to implement this long-term because I love a party but nothing makes me want to vomit more than the thought of how I drank at uni. Drinking all the time is part of uni culture and hilarious to some extent, but it also makes you lazy, forgetful, overweight, tired and depressed. Lying in bed hungoverall day is not making the most of some of your best years. Your free-to-do-what-you-want years. Try to strike a balance. It really doesn’t hurt. You will look back and wish you tried harder. Believe me.

9. Don’t force friendship

First off all, it’s lovely when you stay BFFs with everyone from school, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. You won’t believe me now, but in 10 years time you might have a completely different friendship group. You might have gone to uni away from home, moved to a new town, travelled, partied, put yourself out there in various shapes or forms, and eventually found yourself with a whole bunch of new mates. Somewhere along the line, you will work out who your true friends are. Here’s a hint: staying in touch with them and seeing them regularly isn’t something you have to factor in, it’s just part of your life. Friendship should be completely effortless, but at the same time you’ll both want to make the effort.

10. Do crazy things

When I started a new job once, I was asked to state an interesting fact about myself. Although most of the things I wanted to blurt out were highly inappropriate at the time, I was privately happy to recall so many silly, funny stories. It’s true what they say, your best memories aren’t going to start with a salad an an early night. Take chances, party and say yes to things, just be smart about it. You’re only 16 once, after all.

 

Are some risks good for your health?

Oh hi, remember me? It’s been a while I know. Let me explain.

Somehow, one of the most eventful months of my life just passed me by. Whoooosh! Gone! I didn’t consciously decide on a digital detox (although it has been rather nice in some ways). Nope, I accidentally used up every teeny ounce of spare time on getting my life back on track after my sneaky six-month stint of unemployment. New job, new home. That sort of thing. My poor little blog (and therefore my sanity) has taken a back seat. But all for a good cause. Promise.

I’ve only just taken a minute to consider that this wonderful, crazy, busy time in my life is a product of the challenge I set myself to follow a dream. Last year, I quit my job to travel, and the positive repercussions of taking that chance are still resonating right now. Taking the time, saving the money and having the confidence and determination to act on a dream you’d deeply regret ignoring is surely what it’s all about? I’ve ticked a huge thing off my list, but if anything, the satisfaction gained from pursuing a dream comes from the chase itself. The freedom. The gamble. The excitement. Last year, I took a huge risk and won, and I want you to you do the same.

I’m not saying that you should drop everything and go travel. It’s on the list for some people but it definitely isn’t the answer for everyone. I’m not advocating shirking your responsibilities either. Only you know where they truly lie. This post is to encourage you to follow your dream, challenge yourself, and live outside your comfort zone – whatever those things may mean for you. I embraced my biggest fear. I ventured into the unknown. And it quite literally changed my life.

You know the story by now. This time last year, I was in a permanent state of panic. Things weren’t going right, and I couldn’t bear the lack of control. My family experienced massive upheaval and sadness. I felt worried, lost, anxious and scared. My OCD reared its ugly head, and suddenly the entire world frightened the shit out of me. Leaving the house each morning became a bit of a challenge.

Think, for a moment, about doing something scary. Like public speaking or a terrifying roller-coaster ride. You feel unstoppable afterwards. So, picture embracing your BIGGEST FEAR. Actually standing up to it. Imagine how euphoric you’d feel then? Now imagine spending 6 months deliberately doing things that terrify you. Imagine how you’d feel then. Good things happen when you challenge yourself in the right way, and amazing things happen when you learn to see things from a different perspective. It becomes so much easier to see the positives in everything. It’s cheesy as hell, but changing your life can’t happen unless you do something that profoundly changes your mind.

My blog has always been about sharing life lessons, because learning from the hardest challenges and the darkest moments is one of the best ways of getting the most out of your life. Your one precious life. If my legacy as a writer could be anything, it would be getting people to squeeze every last bit out of the time they’ve been given, to reassure everyone that the bad stuff isn’t supposed to hold you back, it’s supposed to help you grow into something more beautiful and more inspiring than you would have ever been without it.

So what’s the key to success? Look. Forward. Never back. Life moves in one direction, and if you want to be successful, you have no choice but to move with it. When something goes wrong, you can wallow in self-pity for a while. But when you’ve gathered a bit of strength, you have to fight back and move on. Survival will kick in eventually, and when it does, use the adrenaline to actually thrive, doing something you love.

Remember that everyone you know, even the successful, happy people, are ‘going through something’ right now. Everyone. In some shape or form. Because absolutely everyone has to deal with life. You are not different or unlucky, you are alive. Everyone is born into more or less fortunate circumstances, sure, but that doesn’t mean you are predestined to win or lose. Your happiness, your progress and your attitude are completely your choice. And your responsibility.

Look at TV presenter Katie Piper for example. I am so inspired by her. Something evil happened to her and she refused to let it win. It isn’t luck that’s made her a successful, hugely inspiring person; it’s will power and an incredible amount of passion for what she does. She wasn’t about to let getting acid thrown in her face get in the way of her dreams, so what’s stopping you from following yours? If you want something badly enough, you have to fight for it. You have to be strong and brave.

I’ll allow myself this little break from blogging because since the last post I wrote, I have spent proper time with my family, started a new job, been to the most memorable festival with friends, moved into a new house in a new area that we love, and actually got round to throwing an engagement party. And I did all these things because in December 2015 I left my job and followed my dream – my dream of living a full and exciting life. To look forward no matter what.