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.

 

Lesson 20: feeling comfortable in your own skin

Like Her Type - Corin Jackson

Flawless skin fascinates me. Perhaps this is because I’ve worn foundation since I was 13, or perhaps I’ve read too many magazines. Either way, a perfect complexion is something I will probably never have. And I’m ok with that, most of the time.

Anyone who has ever suffered with acne, scarring, eczema, psoriasis, warts, thread veins, poor circulation, dry skin or any other unwanted skin complaint will understand the psychological implications that inevitably come with them. It’s one thing feeling completely dependent on makeup to feel like you, but it’s something entirely different feeling like you have no control over your own body. You feel at war with yourself. You’ve tried every medicated cream, cleanser and herbal remedy on the market and still the soreness, redness and itching prevails. Problem skin is expensive and time consuming if nothing else. You feel as if on the surface, your body isn’t performing the way it’s supposed to. You feel disconnected from yourself, like there’s something wrong with you that you don’t understand, or that you’re being punished for something you didn’t do. It’s a frustrating battle, but, reassuringly, one that many people can relate to. According to the British Skin Foundation, acne affects 80% of women in the UK before the age of 21.

I think a lot of my insecurities are linked to having acne as a teenager. Your teenage years are awkward enough without having relentless outbreaks of painful spots all over your face. I don’t think anyone can fully appreciate how it feels unless they’ve experienced it firsthand. Imagine you’re 15 and planning a party, you’ve spent all your money on a new outfit, the boy you like is going to be there, you wake up with a load of spots in the middle of your face and all your confidence and excitement goes completely out of the window. I assumed I’d outgrow my breakouts eventually, and I did to some extent, but there rarely goes a day where I’m 100% spot-free, particularly if I’m stressed. On top of this, I have terrible circulation (a running joke with my friends), so my skin tone has a mind of its own, too. I think as you get older, you learn to laugh at yourself a lot more. Thank god. Taking your appearance seriously all the time is exhausting.

The reason I’m writing about this is because having problem skin can feel alienating, embarrassing and a bit hopeless. In reality, of course, it’s completely normal. The lucky few with flawless complexions are the anomalies. And besides, how lucky am I that the rest of my body is perfectly healthy? Far too often, we become so preoccupied with the things that are obviously ‘wrong’ that we take all the good things for granted. I might have been applying multiple products to my face every morning for as long as I remember, but if that’s one of my major complaints in life then I should probably keep quiet. I know it’s long, I know it’s uncomfortable and I know it seems endless, but it could be so much worse. If you feel hard-done by, or like you don’t want to leave the house, read about the struggles of people who physically can’t leave the house. Focus your energy on the fact that some people are allergic to sunlight, and then force yourself to go about your day the way they wish they could.

It’s not easy to cast your insecurities to one side, so here are a few little tips from one acne sufferer to another:

  1. Always remind yourself that people don’t fixate on your flaws the way you do. Your skin often feels worse than it looks
  1. Confidence, kindness and a beautiful smile stand out far more than a couple of spots
  1. Very few people get as close to your skin as you do in the mirror
  1. Even Kate Moss gets spots
  1. You could have allergies or a hormonal imbalance, so seek advice from a doctor and dermatologist
  1. Reducing the amount of sugar and alcohol you consume can make a big difference
  1. Estee Lauder Double Wear Foundation and Mineral Rich Loose Powder changed my life – but refrain from applying layers and layers of the stuff
  1. Always moisturise your skin, even if it’s oily – depriving your skin of oil will only encourage it to produce more oil
  1. Smashbox Photo Finish Primer actually works
  1. Be kind to your body – that healthy glow often only comes from inside

Perhaps the biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone feeling uncomfortable in their own skin is to remember this: our personal interpretation of perfection is only desirable because we are programmed to want what we can’t have. The sooner we learn to appreciate what we do have, the happier we’ll feel.

 

Lesson 8: controlling anxiety

DSC_0797

Everyone feels self-conscious. It’s the price we pay for being intelligent human beings. We’re acutely aware of what we look like, what we say, how we feel, who we are and how we interact with everything around us. The challenge arises when this awareness becomes overly critical, obsessive, worried, controlling. How many of us worry on a daily basis about something we just said, something we used to wear, that hair cut we once had, whether someone likes us or not, whether you’re supposed to like something or not? Like many of us, over-thinking and over-analysing everything has always been a part of my personality. I’m as self-conscious as they come.

I’m going to put something out there that you might not agree with. For me, self-consciousness is not a weakness. In some ways, self-consciousness is one of my greatest strengths. Confused? I’m going to explain how it’s possible to turn anxiety into something positive, rather than something that gnaws away at your soul. Anxiety is a difficult thing to live with, and it’s more common than you might think. I’m not going to define what anxiety is or feels like in this post. It’s incredibly complicated and everyone is very different. For now, let’s just think of it in the context of feeling self-conscious, which is something we can all relate to.

Somebody once said to me:

‘You’ve gone downhill.’

Meaning, I’ve let myself go, I’ve reached my peak, I will forever be less attractive than I once was. This is both one of the most upsetting and prominent things that was said to me in my late teens – a direct insult to both my appearance and my ability to recognise my apparent deterioration. Not only did I feel ugly, I felt stupid for not realising how ugly I was. It didn’t matter that this was simply one person’s unwarranted opinion, all that mattered at that moment was that someone thought that about me. The bitter and honest truth was that although there will never be any justification for someone saying something so cruel, I was forced to face the fact that I had stopped making an effort with my appearance. I had done strange things to my hair, I had stopped eating healthily, and I was partying a lot. I was the least self-conscious I have ever been, but I didn’t feel much like me at all. I hated that person for saying that to me, and for years those words ate away at my confidence, causing me to second guess how attractive I was and how well I understood myself. It’s not healthy to obsess about the way you look, but before this comment I had started to go the other way. I had started to not care that much at all. And that’s just not the sort of person I am. These horrible words reminded me of that. In a kind of messed-up way, they did me a massive favour.

BLQ-buddha-you-are-what-you-think-shape-thoughts-Choose-positive-thoughts-for-blog-300x300

You can argue that the reason I started taking better care of myself was to prove that person wrong, letting them define me, but I simply wanted to look and feel like myself again. I am the sort of person who wears makeup every single day. It isn’t because I feel societal pressures to do so, I just enjoy the act of getting ready, of being polished, of being well-dressed. There’s a quote you’ve probably heard: ‘being well-dressed is a beautiful form of politeness’, and I really believe that. If I don’t make an effort I end up feeling lazy, and subsequently end up being lazy. If I felt comfortable going barefaced and wearing any old thing (and I do sometimes envy people who are), it would be a different story all together, but that’s just not me.

Negative comments are always difficult to digest, especially when there is an element of truth in them. These comments don’t have to come from someone you know, it could be that you talk yourself down on a daily basis. The secret to rising above it? Be the best person you can be. Challenge yourself to that. Anything negative that comes your way can simply do one, because if you are yourself and you are trying your hardest in life, nobody is allowed to critique that, not even you. And I don’t mean the best looking, either.  I am critical of myself, but I use that feeling to try and do good things. When I have achieved something, I leave myself alone. If I wake up with a huge spot in the middle of my face (something I’m often confronted with), my natural reaction is to hide in a dark room and cry a little bit. Then I think about all the inspiring people in the world who would do anything to actually be able to SEE their own faces, to have the gift of sight. I really believe you can draw on the energy anxiety can give you and turn it into positive rather than negative energy – which is exactly what this blog post is a product of.

I hope talking a bit about anxiety allows you to confront your insecurities. Feeling constantly self-conscious is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s very hard to control, but it can be controlled. Just remember that self-worth and confidence aren’t gifts from other people, they come from within. And similarly, other people can’t take them from you. They might get damaged, but that merely allows you to build something bigger and better each and every time they do.