Lesson 7: balancing work, love, family & friends

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‘Can you teach us how to balance work, family, friends and a relationship?’

I was so pleased when a close friend of mine suggested this theme for my next post. It’s something I’m naturally quite bad at, so I understand how hard it can be. I hope reading this brings you a bit closer to accommodating all the important things in your life.

My phone, like most, goes off about 10 times an hour. Email, Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, eBay, phone calls, texts, Twitter etc etc. Buzz buzz buzz buzz.  It’s annoying, a tad invasive and yet essential for maintaining friendships, staying in the loop, and just generally being there for people without actually being there. I wonder though, do these forms of communication help us to facilitate our busy lives, or do our lives feel ridiculously busy because we have a never-ending string of notifications telling us how busy we are?

Ensuring we make time for absolutely everyone and everything we care about is bloody hard. Almost every piece of technology poses as a method of communication, when in actual fact it prevents us from having a proper conversation with somebody in the same room. In some ways, technology has the potential to do more harm than good. It tricks us into thinking we’ve spent time with more than one person at once, when in actual fact, both attempts were half-hearted. We all do it, I’ll be sitting on the sofa with Joe in the evening – the only two hours of the day we spend together – texting my friends and scrolling through Pinterest. When I’m with my friends, I’ll be messaging Joe and posting on Instagram. Something is quite wrong with this scenario, but it’s something that’s easily remedied. Perhaps, if we immersed ourselves in the moment, rather than constantly trying to speak to 12 different people at once, using 12 different apps on our phones, we might actually feel like we’ve done something well. When I’m at work and ignore my phone completely, my concentration soars. It works both ways. Quality over quantity always wins, so try to focus on one thing at a time.

Did everyone see that quote going round about Beyonce having the same number of hours in the day as us? It’s horribly true. Time is a universal tool we’ve all be given to use, but some people are naturally better at using it than others. Even the most privileged people in life will get nowhere without focus, motivation and good time management. I hate the fact I’m naturally such a time waster. I could spend hours in the shower thinking and singing, it takes me an age to get ready in the morning and I’ll happily spend an entire evening flicking through old photos or trying on clothes. To combat this, I write lists upon lists of everything I need to achieve that week and make sure to tick things off. Over time, I’ve programmed my brain to feel incredibly guilty when I’m doing nothing. Which isn’t particularly healthy either, I know. There’s that word again, balance.

I cannot express how much our lives constitute one gigantic balancing act. The key isn’t just to balance out everything equally either, it’s about measuring everything out by its level of importance, and then weighing up what you want to do, what you need to do, and what you should be doing. Our lives make up a pretty complicated equation, it’s no wonder we get it wrong sometimes. Willpower plays a pretty big part, as does the formation of your own personal set of values. What one person calls a necessity, another will deem as excessive. That’s just how it is. My biggest piece of advice? Don’t waste your time on people who don’t deserve it. We have a finite amount – use it wisely.

Another crucial factor when divvying up your time – what makes you happy? Because if you’ve got a successful job, you cuddle up with your partner every evening, you spend time with your friends every Friday night, you make a roast dinner every Sunday for your family and you’re UNHAPPY, then your so-called balanced life isn’t working. Maybe you need more time to yourself? Maybe you wish you had that hobby still? Maybe you want to travel? Maybe you’re just tired? If you have to shift your priorities for a while, the people who truly care about you will be more concerned about your wellbeing than the fact they get to see you less. My friends and family understand why I moved to London, and that is something I am so grateful for. Life is too short to spend it trying to please everyone. You really can’t. Realizing that is a small step to happiness in itself.

This time last year I felt like I was too busy to start a blog. Looking back, I wasn’t busy at all, just focussing my energy on the wrong things. Here are a few little tricks I’ve adopted to make sure I squeeze the most out of every day:

1. Only watch TV shows you’re genuinely interested in. It’s quite easy to discover that 5 hours has gone by and you’ve been watching utter shit. 5 hours you could have spent reading, writing, painting, running, cooking, catching up with friends etc.

2. If you’re alone on the train, the bus, the dinner table, the loo or whatever, this is the perfect time to go crazy messaging everyone on your phone. Rather than reply to messages instantaneously (unless they’re important), I often reserve a 30-minute slot and do the whole lot in one. That way, I’m much more focused on what’s going on in front of me, and it prevents me from constantly scrolling through Facebook. Or, why not try giving yourself a phone detox every now and again. It’s not right to rely on something so much that it feels like your arm has fallen off when you lose it.

3. Unless you love your job more than life itself, use the idea of ‘working 9 ‘til 5’ as an actual guideline. At busy times, try to go in early rather than staying late. It will feel like it’s eating into your spare time a little less. There is a whole lot more to life than success and money. The future might never come, so don’t forget to appreciate the moment sometimes. You have one life, one youth. Don’t spend it working your arse off only to look back and wish you’d had fun while you still could. On the other hand, don’t take the piss. Everyone has to work. It makes the world go round.

4. Think about introducing your friends to your other friends. Chances are they’ll all get along and it means you can potentially spend time with lots of people over the course of one night, rather than organizing three separate nights out. I’m so happy I brought a few of my close friends together – they now see each other more than I see them!

5. If you are hungover, force yourself to get out of bed. I’m being a bit hypocritical saying this, but if I knew the amount of hours I’ve spent nursing a headache and hugging my pillow, I think it would scare me. You know that when you get up and have a sit-down shower you eventually feel fine. So suck it up and don’t waste the day after a night out. Even if you just read a book, tidy the house and bake some cakes. People in their 80s can do that.

I hope this post puts you in the right frame of mind to organise, detox and stay focused on what’s important. If you have any time-keeping tips that work for you, please do leave a comment below – this is something I’m always looking to improve on.

 

 

 

Lesson 6: treasuring friends

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At secondary school, I was lucky enough to have a big, happy, supportive group of girls around me at all times. All those teenage discoveries – alcohol, smoking, makeup, clothes, sex, heartache, exams – were a group conquest. We were in everything together, all the time. Growing up, this was just what we all needed. Nothing was too daunting. However, being a tad introverted is a challenge when you’re never alone. Whereas my friends would spend the whole day together and the whole evening talking about it on the phone, I would start to crave a bit of solitude. On girly holidays, I would slink off for a walk or spend an extra hour in the hotel by myself. I loved them, loved being with them. I still do. But I like to be alone sometimes, too. Not in a miserable, feeling sorry for myself kind of way. I just generally need a few hours to recharge my batteries. Quite simply, if you’re an introvert, you feel energised by being alone, whereas extroverts get their energy by being around other people. As I grew up, and learned a bit more about myself, I realised I was never going to be a central part of a huge group of friends my whole life. Don’t get me wrong, I have so many amazing friends. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have them – true friends that understand that sometimes life gets in the way, but will never let you drift too far. Being surrounded by people who care about you when you need them most is an incredible thing. However, having a best friend in times of crisis is quite literally life changing.

Becky was part of the same all-girl group as me at school. She was always kind of ‘the naughty one’. At 13, we shared a pack of Mayfair, got horrendously drunk on bottles of Red Square and had a competition to see who could kiss the most boys (some things never change). At 15, we both fell in love with a boy for the first time (different boys, thank god). At 18, we had a joint birthday party at the local rugby club and planned it meticulously for months. At 19, I went off to get a degree and Becky went off to be a ski instructor. We didn’t speak. We drifted apart, like a lot of people did. We were never the closest friends in the group. We found other friends. Then, after I moved back home, our paths coincidentally crossed and we ended up working in the same pub together. Becky quickly filled a gap I didn’t even realise was there. 4 years on and I honestly can’t imagine life without her. We are polar opposites and yet completely and utterly the same. Becky reminds me every single day that although I often feel an overwhelming urge to be alone, friendship is one of the most important and beautiful things anyone can have. We went off, did our own thing, changed, and found our way back to each other. Now we’re closer than ever. We text each other the same thing at the same time, we pine after each other after a week of not talking, we have THE most fun on a night out together, we’re quite sickening really.

Becky isn’t the only close friend I’ve reconnected with during the last couple of years. In short, if you miss someone, need someone, or feel like someone might need you; it is never ever too late to tell them. Growing up, I was so close with my family I never really felt dependant on other people. My sister is my soul mate and I can honestly count the arguments we’ve had on one hand. It has recently dawned on me that after a certain stage in life, it’s your interaction with the people outside of home that truly helps you learn and grow as a person; whether that’s people you meet from completely different cultures, or simply people you confide in outside of your family unit. If family are the foundations, then friends are the bricks. Without the bricks, you can’t grow upwards. My closest friends aren’t necessarily the people I’ve known the longest, but the people who bring out the best in me, who inspire me, who make it all worthwhile. We’ve shared our darkest secrets and trusted each other to keep them safe. They’re the people I clicked with instantly, and all of a sudden couldn’t manage life without. I would fight for them, cry for them, and probably even die for them. You know who you are, and I don’t thank you enough for being such an incredible influence in my life. And special thanks to my beautiful sister, my original friend. It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m declaring my love to you.

A simple lesson I’ve learned: even your closest friends are only human. If you neglect them, hurt them, push them to the edge or simply make zero effort, they will slowly let you go. Recognise the people you can’t live without and treasure them until the end. Enrich their lives the way they have yours and live forever safe with the satisfaction that if nothing else, you have each other.

 

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Lesson 4: coping with change

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I hate change. Always have, always will. I am also very easily bored, which makes me a walking contradiction of the worst kind. I always picture how things are supposed to go in my head, whether it’s a night out, a holiday, a relationship, or meeting someone for the first time. When things don’t go to plan, and are completely different to how I imagined they would be, I find it very unnerving. So you can imagine how I would feel if something constant in my life was turned completely upside down, changing beyond the point of recognition.

In parallel to this, I am always desperate to try new things, to improve, to expand my horizons, to challenge my brain and test my capacity to learn. You’d think I would get used to things not going to plan, but, in all honesty, I don’t. It comes from being a perfectionist. Is there anything wrong with wanting things to be as they should be, all the time? No, there’s nothing wrong with feeling like that, but there would be something wrong with the world if we actually lived perfect lives. Here’s why…

Simply, if nothing ever went wrong, we would live in a state of indifference. There would be no anticipation, no excitement, no sense of unknowing. Imagine we all had complete control of our lives. We wouldn’t be living at all. There would be no adrenaline, no butterflies, no surprises, no second chances, no need to try at all. Our lives would be lived for us. We would never learn, never grow, never feel the need to understand. Things change because we have to change. If we didn’t change, we’d have the same outlook on life we had at 14. And I’m pretty bloody glad I don’t think like my 14-year-old self. Teenagers are (in general) self-centred, hyper-emotional narcissists who can’t absorb much of the world because their heads are too fucked. It doesn’t last, but imagine if it did. If we didn’t change and grow because life forced us to, we’d all be thinking that the world owed us. It doesn’t.

Without change, we wouldn’t be able to sympathise with other people’s situations. If I lived one type of life, all my life, I would never fully be able to understand what other people go through. I’m glad I know how it feels to be poor, to grieve, to feel insecure, because without those feelings, I would never ever be able to fully appreciate wealth, love and inner peace. Change teaches us about ourselves. And do you know what, if something horrendous happens to you, and you want to be ok, you will be. The only problem comes when you don’t want to grow as a person, or rise above the uncontrollable things that have happened to you. Bad things happen to pretty much everyone. And if they don’t, then these are the only people on Earth who will never fully appreciate the good things. If you feel like you can’t cope with the changes in your life, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself what you’ve learnt, what’s next and how your experience can benefit other people in some way. We are all stronger than we think, but only change will show you just how strong you are. Who knows whether change is good or bad? Time, and time only.

Joe told me about this parable a few years ago, and it’s a great way to put your mind back on the right track when you’ve suffered a bit of a blow in life:

“A poor farmer in ancient China works on a small plot of land with his teenage son. At this time, horses were considered a sign of wealth; the richest person in the province owned no more than a few of them. One day, a wild horse jumped the poor farmer’s fence and began grazing on his land. According to local law, this meant that the horse now rightfully belonged to him and his family. The son could hardly contain his joy, but the father put his hand on his son’s shoulder and said, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” The next day the horse made its escape back to the mountains and the boy was heartbroken. “Who knows what’s good or bad?” his father said again.  On the third day, the horse returned with a dozen wild horses following.  “We’re rich!” the son cried, to which the father again replied, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” On the fourth day, the boy climbed on one of the wild horses and was thrown off, breaking his leg. His father ran to get the doctor; soon both of them were attending to the boy, who was upset and in a great deal of pain. The old farmer looked deeply into his son’s eyes, and said, “My son, who knows what’s good or bad?” And on the fifth day the province went to war.  Army recruiters came through the town and took all the eligible young men to fight in the war – all except for the young man with the broken leg.”

Just remember, a hurdle is only as big or small as the person who faces it sees it. Be open to change and what it teaches you; and you can overcome anything.

Lesson 3: being 25

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Me, most of the time: I am 25. I rent a lovely flat in London with my long-term boyfriend. I have a steady job. Marriage no longer terrifies me. Even pregnancy no longer terrifies me. I have savings. I know who my friends are. I know my own tastes. I can afford nice things. I am healthy. I keep up with worldly and political affairs. I know the importance of a good night’s sleep. I have experienced other cultures. I am a grown up.

Me, the rest of the time: I am 25. I can’t afford to buy a flat in London. Other people in my year are more successful than me. People getting married and having babies weird me out slightly. I want to blow all my savings on travelling the world. I have known illness and death. I am never satisfied with what I have. I party until 5am most weekends and still can’t handle my drink. The thought of festivals keeps me going all throughout the Winter. Everything I see on the news terrifies me. I feel like a very small part in a very big game.

Being 25 is, quite simply, hard work. We are a schizophrenic bunch. We are confused. Some of us have welcomed maturity and responsibility with open arms and some of us have clung desperately onto youth. Us 25-year-olds are all extremely different from each other, and yet we all feel pretty much the same, whether we’re waiters in the local pub or traders in the big city. You’ve seen the numerous articles going around about ‘the quarter-life crisis’– they’ve got a valid point. All through school, we’re programmed to compare ourselves to the average expectation. In year 6, you’re supposed to be aiming for a level 4 in your SATS, at GCSE, it’s a grade C. You know where you stand, you can measure success. After school, success becomes less tangible. Suddenly the most successful person is the happiest person we know. Don’t we all want to be that guy? We believe that by the second half of our 20s we will have it all sussed out. A lot of us mistake that person for the richest person, or the person who has found ‘the one’. A lot of us mistake that person for the person with the most followers, or the most likes. To be followed and liked makes you a kind of leader, and to lead, is an easy measure of success – something we’re all craving.

The crux of the matter is; not only have we discovered that, as adults, we are all very different from each other, but we also all lead two very different lives ourselves: one real one and one virtual one. In our virtual lives, we are all happy, and this is the version most of us use as a comparison. The only problem is; we don’t compare other people’s virtual lives to our own virtual lives – we stupidly compare them to our REAL lives.

In my virtual life, Joe and I never argue, my skin and hair are always flawless, I have the perfect family and I am, quite simply, having the time of my life, all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life and all the people in it, but my life, like everyone’s, is flawed. We should be taking comfort and feeling inspired by the real lives of the people we know, not the photographically enhanced ones. I wonder how many of us scroll through Instagram only to feel less attractive or less cool afterwards. We post a quick selfie to remedy the feeling and the cycle continues.

I’m not saying we should all shun social media, but simply, we should take it with a pinch of salt. People are entitled to carve out a version of themselves, or share opinions in any way they want to – take this blog for example. Just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. There is no shame in admitting you are just like everyone else, and there is no shame in admitting you are different. And us crazy, confused 25 year-olds; we are all exactly the same and completely different. The beauty of being 25 in 2015? We remember a time when the internet didn’t rule our lives. A piece of advice from me to you: if you’re feeling lost, go offline for a week or so and remember what makes you happy. Don’t think about what everyone else is doing. If we all did that same thing, maybe we’d all be able to finally embrace our differences…

Lesson 2: losing weight

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Although I have been blessed with a fast metabolism, there are times when I’ve been a lot bigger than I am now. If you want to gain weight, head off to Uni and live on a diet of tropical VKs, sambuca and  cheesy chips. Did you know a shot of sambuca contains 100 calories? I don’t even bloody like sambuca! If, on the other hand, you’d quite like to lose a few pounds and can’t work out where you’re going wrong, here’s a little insight that might help.

1. Excessive running and cereal bars are NOT the answer

I ran 5k three times a week at Uni, as well as general gym-going, dance classes and daily sit ups in my bedroom. I was obsessed with watching the calories add up on the treadmill. And yet I was heavier than I am now, a person who hasn’t set foot in the gym for 3 years. Don’t get me wrong, muscle does weigh more than fat, but I was less trim. And here’s the other thing, I ate less. Well, I thought I was eating less. I was tucking into bowls of cereal, cereal bars, fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice, yoghurts, Jaffa Cakes and low fat versions of everything I could find. I was so preoccupied with checking the calories and fat content of my food that I completely overlooked the amount of sugar! The endless nights out on alco-pops didn’t exactly help matters either. Another thing, sugar is highly addictive. The more you eat, the more you feel like you need. It brings on sugar lows that leave you craving more. As a student, I couldn’t afford to buy good-quality protein-rich foods. I would get home from the gym and eat a bowl of muesli instead, only to feel hungry again after a couple of hours. I quickly became hooked on eating cheap ‘healthy’ sugary snacks with little nutritional value. When I left Uni, I thought I was losing weight because I was stressed, but when I think about it now, I had quit the gym and subsequently quit all the sugar. In case you don’t know, not only does sugar turn into fat, sugar come downs leave you feeling constantly hungry.

2. Depriving your body of fat is the WORST thing to do

This sounds really weird, but from about the age of 14 to 20, I had a genuine fear of fat. I wouldn’t dream of frying anything and the thought of pouring oil on my salad made me feel physically sick. I was a strictly no butter, skimmed milk kind of girl (how boring, I know). Then one day I read somewhere that depriving your body of good fats prevents it from breaking down bad, saturated fats. Intrigued, I started buying oil-rich full fat hummus, full fat natural yoghurt, Brazil nuts, oily fish and avocados. I noticed instantly that not only was I fuller on these higher-calorie snacks, my stomach felt a lot less bloated and my skin improved. Now I don’t tend to eat low fat anything, apart from the odd diet coke as a treat.

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3. Starving yourself is NEVER a good idea

I’m the sort of person who has to eat breakfast. I feel faint and sub-human otherwise. On the rare occasion that I’ve had to skip breakfast, I end up eating much more than I usually would at the end of the day. Breakfast doesn’t have to be huge; a bowl of porridge and a banana should do it, or poached eggs with spinach and tomatoes. When I left Uni, I worked in a bar – often 12 hour shifts that didn’t allow time for lunch/dinner. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t a rake – I was rushing around all day and night and running on empty. However, as soon as my shift finished, I’d eat something huge, quick and carby. When you’re body goes into starvation mode, it clings to whatever food you do eat. In my case it was a chicken burger from the pub kitchen. Not ideal, even when that was all I’d eaten all day. Eating little and often is definitely the way forward, if your day allows for it.

4. Drink as much WATER as humanly possible

If there’s one piece of advice I can give anyone, it’s to drink 3L of water a day. When you’re dehydrated, your brain SHRINKS, giving you a headache. Filling your body with water is like filling up the car with petrol. Your body needs water to function properly. It flushes out bad toxins, it clears up your skin, it gives you energy, it helps you to lose weight because all of your organs are happily hydrated. Fact. And I’m afraid sparkling water doesn’t count. The bubbles in fizzy drinks prevent anything from being absorbed into your bloodstream, so it won’t properly hydrate you. Also – you’ve heard this a million times before – most of the time, when you think you’re hungry, you’re actually thirsty. Obviously you can drink too much water, so don’t get too carried away. Too much water and you’ll end up flushing out all the good stuff, too.

5. Don’t be lazy, but remember to REST

As a student, I was quite lazy. A trip to the supermarket counted as a major achievement for the day. Although the only exercise I do now is walking and yoga, I have a lot more get up and go about me. Little changes to your attitude can have a big impact on your life – remember, all the time you’re doing something, you’re burning calories. I wake up early at the weekends and tidy the house, I run up the stairs when I hear my phone ring instead of letting it go to answer phone, I stroll up and down Kensington High Street on my lunch break, I do things today, instead of leaving everything until tomorrow (which inevitably means never). I burn calories by simply being a more useful person – it’s a win-win situation. In addition to this, I make sure I take time out to rest. I used to find it really difficult to unwind. Watching TV felt like some form of torture. These days, I know that doing too much leads to being run down, which has a negative impact on your body and its ability to perform. Strike a balance and listen to what your body is saying.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no dietitian or food expert. However, I do, after a fair few years, have a healthy relationship with my body, and that’s not something I take for granted. Be kind to your body, it’s an amazing thing.

Lesson 1: finding love

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I am one of the luckiest people I know. Every morning, I wake up to the sight of a beautiful human being lying next to me, the same human being, every single day. Before you reach for the sick bucket, just know that I’ve had my fair share of disastrous, hilarious, ridiculous relationships. Someone once declined a painfully obvious booty call of mine to watch the Star Trek movie with his friends. That hurts. After years of uncertainty, when you find something as special as I have, it becomes something to shout about. More than shout about, it’s something I could be helping others to find. I had to be so sure that Joe was right for me, but that’s a whole other story.

At 15, I fell completely and utterly head over heels for someone. I had braces, he had yet to discover jeans, and it was perfect. Perfect until our emotional connection became so extreme that it no longer suited our age. It was chaotic, paradoxical and ended three rollercoaster years later. I say ‘ended’, it took years to end. Which is where I come to my first piece of advice:

If part of you still wonders ‘what if?’ do your best to get it out your system before you even think about dating someone else.

You don’t know if you don’t try, right? So, if they throw it back in your face you can move on, and if they want you back you’ll soon realize if you really want the same. Fill up all the gaps of your past and your boat won’t sink trying to reach the shore. It’s ok that I still think of him sometimes, he taught me valuable lessons. Which is where I come to piece of advice number two:

If something ends, it has ended for a reason.

It’s very easy to paint a prettier picture of the past and believe you were happier than you really were. So, don’t be too critical of your present self when you’re comparing the two. Comparisons are good though; everything is relative. I only know that Joe is ‘the one’ because I’ve been with people who aren’t. I also know this because he knows everything there is to know about me and still wants to be with me. Pretending to be something you’re not, even if that version of yourself seems ‘better’ than the real you, will never lead you to the person you’re meant to be with. While you’re pretending to be a certain way to please a certain person, there is someone out there who would love you for you. The more time you spend fannying about with the wrong person, the longer it will take to find the right person. So,

Be real and be honest, not just with the other person, but also with yourself.

I love this quote: ‘Too many people are looking for the right person instead of trying to be the right person’. When you are truly happy with who you are, you will know exactly when you’ve found the right person. Until then, you run the risk of shaping yourself around someone else and the relationship will never feel equal. When actively searching for love, whether it’s down the pub, through mutual friends, or online, there’s a danger you’ll so desperately want it to work out that you might try and force it. Like squeezing into that size 4 shoe when you’re really a 5, just because they’re the last pair. Go to another shop, maybe one you’ve never been to before, and they might have even nicer shoes in the perfect size.

So there you have it, my top tips for finding love:

  1. Let go of the past and learn from the people who aren’t right for you
  2. Be true to yourself and honest with the person you’re with
  3. Hold out for the right person and feel in your heart it’s the right time

We all know it’s never as simple as that, but I’d say it’s a good place to start.