Lessons from you: reaching out to a virtual stranger

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

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

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

THE IMPORTANCE OF REACHING OUT, BY ROSE MUSSEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more of Rosie’s beautifully honest musings here.

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

 

 

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Lesson 23: staying connected

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Social media blows my mind. The power it has over people is one of the greatest mysteries of the modern age. It’s addictive; fuelling the insatiable appetite we have to define ourselves, whilst giving us just enough control over the way we wish to be seen. So, what does that tell us about how we interact with each other?

Almost every social-media platform has eerily evolved from a means of communication to a voyeuristic wonderland. People no longer tend to chat on Facebook, they use it to stalk people. We follow people we don’t know, based on the way they look. The newest platforms focus on imagery alone. Everything is visual and photos have to be atheistically pleasing to be worth posting. You could have the best night of your life but the pictures won’t make it onto your profile if you didn’t look cool or attractive. We’ve been bullied out of posting ‘normal’ pictures because everyone else’s fake ones look so much better. Our pictures are all becoming posed, especially the ones we want to look the most natural. I can say all of this because I’m a prime offender.

I’m also a hypocrite. I hate the fact Intagram plays such a big part in how we view the world, but then I use it to advertise my blog, or showcase my day. We’re professionally and emotionally dependent on virtual connections. We’re in a never-ending talent show, liking, liking, liking all day, every day. We’re constantly on show, constantly being judged. Even the people without social media are being judged. How weird…he doesn’t have Facebook.

My relationship with social media fluctuates between completely compulsive to carefully considered. Sometimes I settle down to read or write and immediately start scrolling through Instagram instead. 30 minutes go by and It’s like I’ve been possessed, flicking through picture after picture, barely pausing to focus on a single one. What am I looking for? I have absolutely no idea. Inspiration? Probably. Reassurance? I guess so. In reality, I’ve wasted my time. It’s plain old procrastination. Other times, I use social media in a constructive, useful way, with site statistics and cultural affairs dictating what I write and what I search for.  As if having a real persona and an online persona wasn’t schizophrenic enough, we have so many different uses and agendas for different types of social media – each one demanding a new version of ourselves. Much like we turn to certain people for certain things in real life. Both our real and online personas are subject to same human tendencies, so how can you determine which one is the real you?

Our identities are simultaneously the most fluid and the most controlled they’ve ever been. As a writer, I’m obsessed with the dichotomy between the real and not-real. Everything you read on my blog is ‘me’ through and through. It’s my voice, my opinions, my personality. And yet, I haven’t uttered a single word out loud. It’s all online, created for a purpose. Is this my virtual persona? Or are my posts a snapshot of the real me? If you find reading them a positive experience, it really doesn’t matter either way. So, here’s my advice: learn to recognise when social media leaves you feeling unnecessarily shit about yourself, and then walk away.

Last week, I went for a drink with a few old work colleagues. I was really surprised and grateful when they told me they’d been reading my blog after discovering it on Facebook. I felt instantly connected. This is when social media does the job it’s supposed to do. Similarly, since setting up my blog, I’ve shared uplifting conversations with people online that I haven’t spoken to for years. It’s really humbling to think that amongst all the selfies and filters, we still have a simple desire to connect with each other on an emotional level. As emotional as you can be when you’re just a few words on a screen.

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.