A lesson on buying your first home

Her Lessons

This time last year was pretty much the worst time ever. After a flurry of emotionally traumatic events, I suddenly found myself living back at my mum’s, away from London, with most of my former world dumped in the garden shed. It all happened so quickly that it feels like the memory of a film rather than an episode from my actual life.

The little boat that constitutes my existence was well and truly rocked. Inside, I was about to sink and drown at any moment. It was a common, incredibly shit thing to go through, but the way everything unfolded was far from normal. It was fucked up. I fucked up. And then I compromised my mental and physical stability. Being scared of losing love will do that to you.

I guess one of the main things I’ve learned is that real love and friendship will survive the biggest shit storm.  That and the fact that one of the best things you can do for yourself is to guarantee your own stable foundations.

So I decided to put everything into just that. Stability. I needed to buy a flat.

Being from a very small town just outside of Brighton, London has always felt like the epitome of opportunity, excitement and success. It’s not for everyone, but I bloody LOVE living in London. I worked so hard to get there, to be able to afford city life (and, of course, city rent).

Finding myself living back home after so many years felt like a huge backwards step. Thank God for my amazing mum for going on that horrendous journey with me. Looking for a flat of my own started off as a sort of half-dream to keep my mind focussed on the future. I populated my ‘Interiors’ Pinterest board and thought it wouldn’t extend much beyond that.

And then I thought fuck it. I’ll speak to a free financial advisor – at Torc24 – to see whether there’s a hope in hell of me ever qualifying for a mortgage by myself. Turns out, I did.

Motivated by this, I dared myself to dream a little more and scroll through Rightmove and Zoopla to see if any property actually existed at the price range I’d been told I could afford. Again, to my amazement, there was. And not just in outer Scotland, with the Help to Buy London scheme, I could afford to buy a flat within the M25. In a London borough (just).

In case you’re interested (and feel free to skip ahead if you’re not), qualifying for the Help to Buy London scheme means that you only have to pay a 5% deposit of a new build property of up to £500,000 (depending on what price bracket your salary qualifies for). The government gives you a whopping 40% loan to that you don’t have to start paying for 5 years. Mortgage rates are also pretty low at the moment. My mortgage is with Halifax and it’s fixed at 1.64% for 2 years.

Which, in a nutshell, means that my current monthly mortgage repayments are just £515. Which is cheaper than any rent I’ve ever paid, even when I was on half the salary I’m on now. Say whaaat.

I started my search for affordable new-build flats in Croydon. Not the prettiest of places, but set to evolve fairly quickly thanks to the new Boxpark and coming Westfield. As it turns out, there are loads of new builds available on Help to Buy, but the ones I could afford were really, really small. Like, really small.

I widened my search ever so slightly and came across Wallington (which I’d never heard of before) and which turned out to be a quiet, green part of Sutton with a handful of pretty parks, a lake and some decent pubs. I’m already a regular at The Wallington Arms.

I came across a one-bed flat in a renovated Victorian building, and, in a rather nice turn of events, my offer was accepted on my 28th birthday – a birthday I was dreading, I might add. And from that moment I started to realise that all the bad things that happened in the months before might well have been paving the way for unimaginably better things. For me, this flat was a physical representation of everything there is to gain from everything you’ve ever lost. I still have to pinch myself that it’s mine.

I had a sort of epiphany in the shower the other day.

I’ve moved house 10 times in the last 10 years, and I’ve have had some pretty horrendous bathrooms. There’s the one at uni that had brown carpet, mould in every crevice of the shower tiles, and a toilet that flooded during a particularly messy house party; and the one I shared with boys with constant remnants of muddy rugby training rimmed around the bath; and the one that was supposed to be a ‘wet room’ but which caused the ceiling to leak and eventually explode in the room below; and the one in a Brixton basement with prison bars on the window; and the one that was pretty much inside a cupboard in the kitchen with silverfish and no room to move.

And there I was, showering under a giant, ridiculously powerful, vintage-style showerhead, in a pristine grey-tiled wet room with a beautifully clean, heated ecru floor and plush new towels hanging on the warm towel rail. I suddenly realised how far I’d come. Not to mention the fact I’d got a mortgage by myself. A wave of peaceful relief passed over me. This is my very own bathroom. I own this. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so safe (and clean).

So here’s a message from me to you if you’re sick of renting, are going through a horrible breakup, or have a god-awful bathroom – keep looking forward and find the thing that centres you. It might feel bleak at the moment, but it’s all temporary. Keeping focusing your energy in the right direction and you’ll get there. Have faith.

Advertisements

A lesson on January goals

Her Lessons

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 14.42.50

‘New Year New Me’ has seen a bit of backlash. And I have to say I kind of agree. Not only does it imply there’s something wrong with last year’s you (you don’t need to be that harsh on yourself) it also overlooks the very important fact that you can start over any time. You really can.

And as far as the typical (pressured by society) idea of this New You goes, January is a cold depressing month that’s surely only made worse by foregoing comfort food, wine, cosy pubs and new clothes.

Why deprive yourself in January? I don’t get it. The New Year should be a time for nourishing and enriching yourself. Challenging yourself, yes. But caring for yourself mostly. Taking what you have, understanding it, and finding new ways to make it better. For some, that might mean running on spirulina powder and lemon juice, but surely January proposes an opportunity to delve into something much deeper?

I’ll admit that sometimes it takes a universal shift to help guide you in the right direction. It’s much easier to tap into a new sense of direction when the world around you in putting energy into the same thing, on whatever level its happening. It’s about using that shared January vibe of starting over to motivate shaping your own guidelines for the year ahead. I think self-love is key in January. Show yourself that you care in all the little ways and you’ll see the difference it can make to your self-confidence and achievements long term.

I know what my resolutions and goals are for 2018. I don’t need to start or complete them in January to make sure they happen. Cooking good food and doing yoga at home, for example. I know I can start to fulfil these as soon as I move into my new flat. It’s all on my terms you see. Which is liberating in itself. Setting yourself challenges that have realistic targets is crucial for nurturing your self-esteem. Plus I was really hungover on New Year’s Day so I’m hardly going to start then…

I don’t want to be a totally new me in 2018. I like who I am. I want to learn, grow and evolve in the most sustainable way, and that means healthy challenges and goals that make me feel good, inside and out. Not sudden starvation, detox punishments or saying no to things I love.

So here’s what my (albeit non-dry, non-vegan) January goals look like. Because I know these are the little things that well energise me to take on the year ahead. I’ve already ticked a few of my list, which is kind of cheating but that’s just how I roll.

1. Nap when it’s raining and don’t feel guilty about it. 2. Actually get your fringe trimmed at the hairdressers. 3. Read The Course of Love. 4. Use Headspace more. 5. Write even more. 6. Take a trip to IKEA. 7. Create a vision board for the year ahead. 8. Forgive yourself and others for the things you’ve been carrying from 2017. 9. Try not to overthink and just feel. 10. Buy a yoga mat. Shop for cool furniture. 11. Give clothes to charity. 12. Plan holidays, festivals and city breaks. 13. Drink red wine and Guinness. 14. Eat lots of veg. 15. Don’t skip the cheese. 16. Use The Body Shop’s Himalayan Charcoal Face Mask once a week (it’s bloody great). 17. Get that tattoo you booked. 18. Print photos. 19. Dance. 20. Work hard.

My goals for the year as a whole are pretty much always the same. That doesn’t mean I’m yet to achieve them. Somehow, the more I do achieve them, the more there seems to be achieve. Which makes them mantras more than resolutions:

Exhale the bullshit.

Worry less. Even less than last year. Until you reach a place of complete faith.

Make more time for the people you love. But also save time for yourself.

Learn what and who are really worth your energy.

Step outside of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself daily. That usually means ignoring introvert/OCD tendencies that tend to hold you back.

Create memories worth sharing.

Be grateful. For everything. Always.

A lesson on loss and gain

Her Lessons

They say that grieving the loss of someone who’s still alive is one of the most difficult things you can go through. Death, however cruel, is beyond the realms of human control. It gives life meaning. But to lose person who’s still alive? That’s hard to get your head around.

I’ve experienced this in so many different ways this year that I don’t really know where to start. One minute I knew myself – I knew my life and my friends – and I relied on these things, trusting them to be true. And then new truths started to unveil themselves. The real, hard shit you go through reveals painful information about the foundations of your whole life. Mainly that unconditional love, understanding and forgiveness are precious and rare.

What happens when the things you’ve lost were as a direct result of your own actions? Because that creates a different type of pain and grief altogether. Let’s think of it in simple terms. Imagine your partner worked hard and saved up to buy you a really expensive watch, the watch you’ve always wanted, to signify how much they think you deserve. You go out one night, you get really drunk, you wake up and the watch is gone. You feel like maybe you didn’t deserve it after all, but deep down you know you still do, simply because you feel so sad and guilty about the fact it’s gone. It’s your fault, but it still hurts. In fact, it hurts more because you beat yourself up about it over and over. Loss is loss, in whichever way it materialises, whoever’s at fault.

In all honestly, I haven’t really recognised myself in many of the things I’ve done this year. I’ve made some pretty bad decisions. But at the same time, everything I’ve learned and been exposed to has become incredibly precious to me. I’ve shed a lot of skin in the form of bad habits, bad choices, bad influences and bad company.

This year I have felt my most human. Vulnerable is an understatement. And in many ways I’m kind of starting from scratch. There’s a belief that you feel able to interact more deeply with the universe during the aftermath of loss. When you’re hurting you’re changing. And when you embrace change you grow. I can’t tell you how much I feel this right now. It sounds a bit out there, but I honestly feel like the universe will always be on your side if you accept and internalise the lessons it’s trying to teach you. 

A few nights ago, I dreamt of fire in a way that apparently signifies transformation and starting over. I woke up in pain with a bleeding nose. The intensity of what I’m going through right now is like nothing I’ve ever felt before. The only way to move forward is to embrace and acknowledge every emotion, and have faith that the negative feelings have the potential to manifest as positive lessons.

So despite the fact that I feel detached from who I was, I’ve also felt a huge shift and a sense of stepping into a better version of myself. Something big happened and it shook my whole world. I’ve revaluated everything I care about, everything I believe in, realigned my truths, and with time and hard work I’m starting to feel more in tune with who I actually am.

It’s been a long road. It still is. So how to start turning loss into gain?

Mindfulness sits side by side with gratefulness. And let me tell you, learning to feel grateful for the bad things you’ve done, or the bad things that have happened to you, and the things you’ve lost as a result, will truly bring you freedom. You have that power inside you. You determine the interpretation of your life experiences, both good and bad.

And better still, once you’ve found peace with those experiences, you’ll also be able to use them to help others. One person’s loss will always be another’s again. Energy cannot be destroyed, only passed around, so it’s inevitable that your negative experience can be converted into something positive and just as strong.

I tried to replace emotional loss with emotional gain too quickly. It’s too confusing to feel conflicting emotions at the same time, or to mask one strong emotion with an opposing strong emotion. I realised that I needed to make a statement of physical gain instead, while dealing with the emotional loss. I asked myself, right now, what I’d like to gain more than anything. The answer? Independence and stability. How to make it physical? I bought a flat in London.

Next time you find yourself becoming fixated on something you’ve lost, try to identify something positive that you might gain. Even if it’s just that it made you realise how much you fucking loved that thing. It’s really hard sometimes, I know. This year, I’m grieving the loss of an almost-life, but in doing so I have to believe that I’ll gain something bigger and better.

It’s important to dwell on loss for a while and allow yourself time to grieve for something you love. But it’s just important to pick yourself up and move on, stronger, braver and wiser than ever.

Why your tattoo demonstrates a beautiful faith in others

Her Lessons

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/

 

Lessons to 16-year-old me

Her Lessons

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?

Her Lessons

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.

Her Review: #facefoward by The Pool and Clinique

Like Her Lifestyle

hero_landscape_faceforward

For any of you who haven’t heard of The Pool (seriously, where have you been?), it’s a very clever, very useful online destination for busy women seeking interesting news and information. From politics to beauty tips, it breaks down everything worth knowing into bite-size pieces that make you wonder what you ever did on your lunch break before. Plus, co-founders Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne are both brilliant, having put their combined writer-editor-author-presenter-DJ-comedienne experiences to the best-possible use – one of those things that looks good on paper and actually is.

Anyway, last night I was lucky enough to be invited to The Pool’s #facefoward event, in partnership with Clinique. And aside from the generous goody bag (always a nice surprise), I took so much away from the evening. I don’t usually review places and events, but I do love to talk about inspiration and motivation, which is exactly what the evening centred around. Laverne interviewed four very driven, very different women, quizzing them on the women who inspired them before inviting ‘future selves’ onto the stage to ask unfiltered questions.

Internationally acclaimed war photographer Lynsey Addaroi kicked off the evening; followed by Liberty London Girl’s very own Sasha Wilkins; England cricketer Ebony-Jewel Rainford-Brent; and Channel 4 news broadcaster Cathy Newman. Although these four women are experts in very different fields, striking similarities run through their four incredible journeys – namely that it is impossible to learn, grow and thrive without experiencing the really hard times, whatever they may be. Addaroi was captured on the frontline and threatened with execution, Wilkins slept in her car and kept her identity a secret, Rainfort-Brent was told she would never walk again and Newman has suffered the worst kind of sexism throughout her entire career. Four strong, fiercely independent women who simply refused to give up. Each time they took a knock, they built something stronger and more resilient in return. It isn’t the money, lifestyle and celebrity status that we should be aspiring to, it’s to develop an ability to believe in ourselves no matter what. The evening depicted this beautifully.

Lesson 21: feeling inspired for life

Like Her Lifestyle

e8b2fea9382a3fd6b5333948b769e7a4

As a writer, one of my biggest fears is having nothing to say. What if I just wake up one day and my mind is an empty space where all my ideas used to be? I suppose I’d write about feeling frustrated. I’d write about my apparent sense of nothingness until my feelings of uselessness vanished. Accomplishment regained. That is the beauty of my profession. If I want to write, I can. Even when I’m writing about nothing. There is only ever a problem if I do not wish to write. That is a different story. You could say that the same goes for life; if we wish to live zealously, the best we can, for as long as we can, then we will. Even when we’re not doing anything particularly exciting. If we lose interest in life however, having lost control of the narrative, we’re forever staring at blank pages. The only person who can kick-start the story is the author – you.

I want to talk about what inspires me to stay focussed on the things I love doing, even during the times when I don’t feel like doing them. It can seem like your life is on pause when you lack the necessary motivation to simply have a ‘good day’. If you ever do a questionnaire about depression, it will ask whether you ‘have little interest in doing things you used to enjoy.’ I don’t want to talk about depression, but I do want to address the feeling we all get from time to time that saps us of inspiration. It’s completely normal, particularly when a lot of us have the same routine day-in, day-out. I don’t know many people who jump for joy each morning at the prospect of simply being alive. And in all honesty, I wouldn’t want to. There is so much pressure on all of us to be happy happy happy all the time. We are allowed to be miserable too – ups don’t exist without downs. However, feeling happy and feeling inspired are quite different things.

Seeking inspiration in your darkest times can be one of the best ways to gain something beautiful from them. When I was a teenager, I broke up with my first love and was completely devastated. I scrawled vast amounts of THE most cringe-worthy songs, poems, letters etc on any bit of paper I could find, and from that embarrassing, weirdly poignant adolescent experience, I learnt that anger and pain can make you feel like creating something: something that represents your emotions and releases you of them. Painters, musicians and authors have been doing it since civilization began. This can only really mean one thing – a lack of inspiration doesn’t necessarily come from some deep-routed unhappiness, it comes from monotony and a lack of life experience. Similarly, in some ways depression isn’t sadness at all, it’s feeling uninspired. With achievement comes a purpose in life – the one thing we’re all searching for. Without inspiration, we feel hopeless. Anyway, casting depression to one side, how do we keep ourselves feeling inspired on the really dreary can’t-be-arsed days we all know too well? Here are a few pointers that work for me:

  1. Have you ever been unemployed? I have. It was fucking awful. Writing jobs were rarer than unicorns when I graduated. Now, when I feel like I can’t face going to work, I think about how happy I was to be offered my first proper job out of Uni and I cling onto that thought. Past-me would kick the shit out of present-me if she heard me moaning about having to work. From bankers to bar tenders, jobs give us a purpose and that’s pretty important. It’s for this reason you should never give up searching for the right job, either. You will get there.
  1. Are you reading this blog post? In which case, your half-way to beating a lack of motivation – you’re interested in what someone else has to say, in what someone else is working on. People inspire people. If you like and respect what someone is about, use their influence to your advantage. When I see someone looking great or working hard when I’ve made zero effort, I consciously try harder the next day. Competition is healthy and necessary. If you are feeling uninspired, surround yourself with people from all walks of life and learn something from them. You won’t learn anything sitting at home by yourself.
  1. Have you done anything completely new recently? One of the most influential things for staying on the ball is good old-fashioned stimulation. Exercise those brain muscles by challenging yourself to something you’ve never done before. It could be anything from wearing red shoes to sky diving. A few weeks ago, Joe and I did an archery class. It gave me such a buzz because it was completely out of routine.
  1. When was the last time you read a book? I know I always bang on about the benefits of reading, and I know it’s hard to find the time, but it really does make you feel better. Finishing a book is so rewarding and chances are, the words would have made you laugh, cry and think carefully about life.
  1. Have you thought about volunteering or charity work? This is right at the top of my list at the moment. Not just giving money to charity, but being present and actively helping. If you are feeling uninspired, turn your gaze to people who have far less than you and think about the difference you could make. Even if you just buy the Big Issue and have a chat with the person selling it.
  1. Do you have a hobby? There is more to life than work. There really is. But there is also more to life than lazing on the sofa or getting pissed. Turn the TV off and try taking up something you’ve always wanted to do. Whether it’s photography, running, a makeup artist course, sushi-making classes, painting, poetry reading, baking or blogging, find something useful and rewarding to focus your energy on. Also, I’m not saying get a puppy but…
  1. Are you proud of your physical appearance? Sometimes a lack of enthusiasm can come from not feeling our best. Maybe it’s time to start eating right, or hit the gym harder, or get a haircut, or treat ourselves to new makeup? Or maybe it’s time to stop letting our insecurities get in the way of life? We regret the things we didn’t do. You’ve heard it a 100 times now.

The reason I’m writing about this is because I have to talk myself into ‘doing things’ quite a lot. My natural reaction is often to shun people and hide under my duvet, and this is something about me that I hate. It is possible to ignore the voice in your head that tells you to say ‘no’, you simply say ‘yes’. Next time you’ve got that I’m-so-bored-but-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-do-anything feeling, give yourself a little shake and remind yourself that THE ENTIRE WORLD is at your feet. It’s never too late to pick yourself up and start again, ever.

I came across a quote the other day: ‘Work is fascinating, I could stare at it for hours.’ You don’t have to be a writer to recognise the feeling of staring at a blank page for a really long time, willing something to happen. The truth of the matter is, whether it’s words, work or life, it doesn’t happen to us, we happen to it. We write the stories, we put in the effort and we reap the rewards.

Lesson 7: balancing work, love, family & friends

Like Her Lifestyle

764px-Balanced_scale_of_Justice

‘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.