Lesson 27: turning 26

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So last week, I turned 26. That’s four years from 30. That’s too old to get a young person’s travel card and, let’s face it, it’s too old to fall asleep on the night bus and wake up in Orpington, with no phone and ketchup down your front. I am no longer in my early twenties, and do you know what? I quite like it. Here’s why.

Often one to let nostalgia lure me into believing that things were so much better in the past, I was all set to feel a bit weird at the prospect of leaving my early twenties behind. I had an absolute blast, and, more importantly, I had an excuse for when things didn’t quite go to plan. Ignorance and lack of experience in youth are the best excuses we ever have. And then, quite out of nowhere, we suddenly accumulate enough mistakes to know better. It’s not that life has to start being serious, I don’t think we should ever have to take ourselves particularly seriously; it’s more that I want my life to start having a different purpose. I want to reach a new level of productively, to embark on a new type of challenge; one that comes from hangover-free weekends and spending less time worrying about what to wear.

During my birthday celebrations, a friend and I had a conversation about whether we’d rather be 21 again. He said he would, and I disagreed. In fact, I can’t think of anything worse. He argued that back then, life was one big party, a party we were entitled to and expected to participate in. We didn’t have a care in the world. We were self-assured and the future felt far away. We could dream of being whatever we wanted to be. We were arrogant without reason.

It’s not that I’m necessarily happier at 26. I just feel like I’m more the person I was supposed to be. At 21, I couldn’t see past my degree and my next night out. My life feels a whole lot fuller now. Complex and challenging sure, but it’s grown and developed in ways I never expected. I look at pictures of 21-year-old me and feel like it’s not me at all. That hair, that place, those clothes, those relationships etc, etc. I was having a great time at the time, but with everything I’ve learnt and experienced since then, I would never want to go back. For anyone who is wondering why, here are 10 reasons why I think being 26 is better than being 21:

1. I look better
After so many years of experimenting with my hair and face, I have finally worked out what suits me, and it’s definitely not a side-swept fringe, heavy bronzer and skin-coloured lipstick. In fact, I now look more like me at 17 than 21, I’ve reverted back to a more natural me (but with bigger eyebrows). At uni, I never quite looked the way I wanted to look. Lack of extra cash had quite a big part to play. I couldn’t always afford nice food, a decent hair cut, and skin-care products that actually work. All my money went on booze and books. Somewhere between graduating and finding my first proper job, I started to feel much more at ease with my appearance, more so now than ever.

2. I can dress myself
The same goes for clothes. I would rather go naked than trade my wardrobe with the one I had five years ago. Being 26 and earning a decent salary means being able to buy the things I always wanted but could never afford. It also means I’ve worn enough what-the-fuck-was-I-thinking outfits to know better.

3. I can drink responsibly
Kind of. In comparison to how horribly drunk I used to get anyway. Vomiting from too much alcohol has thankfully become rare and I actually remember my nights out now. Plus, I drink in much nicer, less cheesy vicinities. I go to places for the music, rather than getting wasted because the music is so awful.

4. I’ve found ‘the one’
I am now capable of being in a serious relationship and I no longer question whether I’m too young to properly settle down. Being so excited for your future with someone gives you very little reason to look back. I couldn’t imagine life without Joe.

5. I’m more interested in the world around me
Which has brought on a burning desire to travel and volunteer. I actually feel guilty about how little I’ve experienced of the world, and how much I could be doing to make some sort of difference. If I had travelled at 21 (which I’d originally planned but couldn’t afford to), I would have partied my time away.

6. I can picture my future
The future is no longer the bleak, scary place it used to be. I’ve worked hard and can see where my career is going. The thought of marriage and babies isn’t terrifying and there’s a slight possibility I might someday own my own house. Although, there are quite a few things I still need to get out of my system.

7. I have a more positive outlook
Which has largely come from learning to let go of the things I can’t control. I also care a lot less about what people think of me. There is very little point. Converting negative energy into positive isn’t easy, but I think it becomes more possible with age, confidence and experience. We have a limited amount of energy, what we spend it on is up to us.

8. I know who my friends are
I’ve discovered what true friendship is. I’ve met many of my closest friends in the last five years. We’ve come together through shared experiences, tastes and values. I’ve learnt that sometimes people drift apart, and that’s ok. Very few things last forever, and that’s what makes the things that do so amazing.

9. I’m no longer a junior or assistant at work
I’ve worked for successful brands, going from intern to editorial assistant to copywriter to senior writer. I’ve been rewarded and promoted and I now have a level of confidence and authority I couldn’t have dreamed of at 21. I used to worry that hard work and ambition wouldn’t be enough, but it turns out, it was.

10. I’ve made so many amazing memories
In the last five years, I’ve graduated, fallen in love, lived in three different London boroughs, covered London Fashion Week, doubled my salary, been to countless festivals and far too many crazy nights out, visited Paris, Ibiza, Aruba, Fuerteventura, Cape Verde, Austria, Egypt, Venice and Lisbon. I’ve written thousands and thousands of words and read hundreds of books. I’ve discovered the music that really moves me, and people I’d do anything for.

There have unavoidably been lows as well as highs: unemployment, uncertainty, loss, illness, mistakes, sadness and big changes. In fact, the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with have happened in the last five years. The most important thing is that regardless of the darker times, it’s the positive things I hold close. I’ve learnt so much, and I hope reading this encourages you to always look forward. Keep learning from the lessons life throws at you, and the good will always outweigh the bad.

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Lesson 26: going wild in Ibiza

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Pretty much my entire summer this year has been building up to one thing: 6 days in Ibiza with 11 friends. A part of me thought that maybe this time (my third time) at the ripe old age of 25, I wouldn’t go too mad. I thought staying in a beautiful villa in the mountains of Roca Llisa, miles away from the non-stop party at Playa d’en Bossa, would be enough to discourage me from going out every night. I was wrong, of course. I didn’t stay in once.

Am I regretting it now? Yes and no. I feel ill. Very ill. My poor sleep-deprived body is so very relieved to be going to bed before 6am. But at the same time, I’m so glad I reserved a precious week of my year to be plain ridiculous. I have a tendency to take myself and everything else too seriously, constantly worrying about the tiniest things. After five minutes with my friends, sitting around our pool, drinking Malibu (of all things) with boiling water at 10am because ‘it’s pretty much the same as Moroccan tea’, I’m laughing too much for anything else to matter. A week away from your day-to-day life has a wonderful way of making you realise what’s important. The non-stop partying was kind of just an accidental product of us being so happy to be there. We literally celebrated the entire time.

It’s a common misconception that most ‘party animals’ are that way inclined because they crave escapism. People often assume that going out-out is a welcome distraction from the hardships and monotony of life. In lots of ways it is, but for us, it really isn’t. I feel so lucky to be part of a group of friends that experience all the amazing things about a night out together, and none of the shit. No fights, no puking in the cab, no crying, no bullying each other into coming out, no kissing people you shouldn’t, no waking up with regrets. Sure, that’s what a night out used to look like for most of us, but after years of experience, I think we’ve finally cracked it. Most importantly, we just love music. We love each other’s tastes in music and none of us are shy on the dance floor. We even have our own dance moves. A look or a hand-signal across the dance floor has us in hysterics. We never drink to forget. Quite the opposite in fact – we’ve made hundreds of hilarious memories.

For our first night in Ibiza, we were unashamedly the first people in Pacha, dancing solidly to Amine Edge & Dance and MK until it closed. It was the PERFECT first night – and a massive thank you to Ben, who got us all in for free. Saturday saw us eventually arrive at Sankeys for Magna Carter and Reverse after a party in our villa, Sunday we hit Ushuaia for full-on cheese (Avicii), followed, of course, by Space for Erick Morillo, Monday at DC10 has ruined my ears for life and Chase and Status and Defected at Amnesia on Tuesday feels like a mad dream. I think we genuinely ended up spending 1000 euros on taxis. It was so worth it.

Before going away, we decided we’d throw our own party at the villa during the second day. We actually hired a sound system and each prepared a playlist, allocating set times so everyone could be DJ for an hour. At around 4pm I was standing in the ‘DJ booth’, watching everyone prance about dressed as a caveman with the BIGGEST smile on their face. Dancing on chairs, swinging each other round, cans of beer in hand, with a backdrop of palm trees, mountains and blue skies. I think it was the most carefree thing I’ve ever seen. Our whole day was spent like this (until the neighbours shut us down), and I will literally think of it every time I feel a bit low, probably for the rest of my life.

It sounds a bit OTT writing that, but it’s actually true. Plus, it’s helping me get over the guilt of sacrificing my health and sanity for a week of fun. Going a bit wild in Ibiza has weirdly put into perspective how much I really don’t need to go crazy, I just need my friends. I feel like I’ve been on some strange journey of self-discovery (probably because I still need to sleep), where I’ve gone from wanting nothing but a giant party to feeling like I never need to party that hard ever again. Like, I’ve done it. It’s out of my system. I guess taking things to the extreme always leaves you craving the opposite. I’m lucky that when I eat too much sugar, I start craving vegetables, not more sugar. And funnily enough, in the week I’ve been back I’ve started getting my wisdom teeth. Two of the the bloody things. I think it’s a sign. I’m ending on a high. I’m actually growing up.

Until I see this bunch again anyway.

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Lesson 19: celebrating festivals

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Festivals have different rules to reality.

At festivals, I wear gold Lycra. I fall over in the mud and genuinely don’t care that it’s in my hair. I wee in strange places. I talk to strangers. I survive on warm cider and cereal bars. I’m drunk as a skunk at 11am. I dance with my eyes closed like no-one is watching. I’m covered in glitter. Glittery mud. I’m on a permanent high from hearing my favourite songs. With my favourite people.Feeling so much love as a collective. I’m part of a group. Part of an atmosphere. Utter contentment.

Festivals aren’t for everyone, but for me they are the epitomy of the Great British Summer. The anticipation, the planning, the unpredictability – all shrouded with hope and excitement. We unite in a mission to make this year the best-year ever. It’s addictive, infectious and something to focus on. There is nothing I enjoy more than packing up four outrageous outfits and heading for the fields with a crate in my arms, breaking away from the monotony of everyday life, if only to learn how to fully appreciate flushing toilets again.

I love festivals for exposing a part of me that remains hidden for most of the year. The part that doesn’t worry over the tiniest problems, like chipped nail varnish, or hoovering, or holes in my tights. For a few magical days, the most important things in the world are who’s on stage and who’s on next. And beer. And burgers. And more beer.

Some of the most memorable moments in my life have taken place at a festival. I sparked up an instant friendship with my now long-term boyfriend, bumping into him as I emerged bleary eyed from a porta-loo. I cried to Elton John singing Rocket Man on my birthday, while dressed as Elton John.  I danced for 12 hours straight and forgot to eat, covered in sequins and wearing a blue wig. There is something magical about being with a huge group of friends and knowing, just for a minute, you are all thinking and feeling the exact same thing. You’re all detached from real life but not from each other, and the bond you already shared is eternally stronger.

There is no hiding at a camping festival. Everyone sees you in all your glory. For someone who never leaves the house without makeup on, this is both incredibly scary and profoundly liberating. You remember that it’s ok not to care sometimes, and to take yourself a little less seriously. Suddenly there are more important things in life than deadlines, work and money. For four – maybe more – blissful days, having fun becomes your sole occupation. You’re a teenager again. The beauty of it being that you eventually crave the routine and cleanliness of your old life, ready to return to your bed and dry clothes.

Anything that encourages creativity is to be commended. To ensure people learn to let go, dance, have fun with their friends and listen to amazing music. Life really is too short not to. If you haven’t already planned to go, to treat yourself to a few precious carefree days this Summer, I can’t stress enough how much you should.

 

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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