Why it ALWAYS pays to be patient

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Living in limbo is not fun. It is, however, often a stepping-stone to a much nicer place, as long as you’re patient, optimistic and prepared to push yourself. I hope this little anecdote shows how important it is to let a timeline of events unravel before submitting defeat. It’s goes back to that age-old saying I love to overuse – who knows what’s good or bad? 

Last week I was miserable. I was jobless, living at home for the foreseeable future, and full of doubt. I was losing perspective, and fast. Six weeks of not having an awful lot to do may sound like bliss, but it plays havoc with your identity and relationship with the world around you when you’re not convinced it will ever end.

Less than seven days later, I’ve found myself an exciting new job and secured a beautiful two-bedroom house to rent in London. Initially I thought how the fuck did that happen? But I really gave myself no other option, even when all I wanted to do was stay in bed and eat cake. Good things don’t just happen; they take hours and hours of hard work and sacrifice. I wasn’t lucky, emerging from limbo unscathed. I made this happen. And I did so when a voice in my head started telling me I wasn’t good enough. Ignore it. You have to keep going.

 I could feel depression starting to weigh me down, stealing little segments of hope and energy. I had so much time on my hands, and the world had started to feel pointlessly endless. The longer I stayed in the house, the less I wanted to go outside. I’d felt like this before only much worse, when I graduated during a recession and had more chance of capturing a unicorn than landing myself a paid writing job. My degree and all that I’d worked for had no immediate purpose, and I felt my identity wear away with each passing day spent applying for unpaid jobs I was unlikely to get.

This challenging time became one of my most significant life lessons. I hit a really low point. I drank A LOT. But I kept on writing for anyone and anything that would let me. Unpaid writing filled up a portfolio, which landed me an unpaid internship with an online magazine in London Bridge, and another one writing from home. I wrote articles for free by day and worked nights in the local pub. I was promoted to Editorial Assistant and promised a proper salary, and then just weeks later the company went bust, and I began to give up hope.

My spirit somewhat broken, I became a customer service advisor in a call centre and wondered why I ever believed I could write for a living. But soon enough, friends I studied with started to get proper writing jobs, or jobs in PR or marketing. They got paid to do something interesting. Inspired and unforgivably competitive, I held on a little longer.

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15 months after graduating, I started to write for New Look on a basic salary and felt like the luckiest, happiest person alive. It didn’t matter that I was writing product descriptions for pittance, I was a copywriter! I was saved!

Four years on, when I quit my most recent Senior Writer job to travel, it struck me that I was deliberately throwing away something I would have died for just a few years before, but the other option – not going travelling – was completely out of the question.

Returning home to Brexit, uncertainty and unemployment brought back horrible memories. One of the worst times of my professional life gave me the mental tools I needed to carry on believing in my work and ability no matter what. The really shitty times prepare you for doom and gloom in ways you never even expect.

It’s July 2016, which means I graduated five years ago. I have achieved more in those five years than I ever thought possible. I’ve taken risks, and they’ve paid off in the long run. I’ve let time run its course before giving in, and I’ve subsequently doubled my salary, and quadrupled the possibilities.

This story is for anyone who feels like I did five years ago, for anyone on the brinkAL on something brilliant who needs an extra push. I doubted whether I would ever find a job, let alone one I enjoyed with a decent wage. If you work bloody hard and believe in yourself despite everything you’re up against, amazing things will happen. Five years ago I had ideas, a bit of willpower and absolutely no money. A week ago, I had the same. By the end of the month, it will all be a distant memory, and one I’ll no doubt return to next time I find myself in Limbo again.

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Lesson 30: quitting your job to travel the world

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Being Joe’s birthday, 13th October was already on my list of important dates. As it happens, 13th October 2015 also turned out to be the day I quit my job to travel the world. I didn’t exactly shout ‘I QUIT!’ and storm out the office (as much as I’ve fantasised about doing precisely this). I have an 8 week notice period, which makes it slightly less dramatic. But still, I made the decision to pack up my lovely life in London and say a big fat YES to the slightly more terrifying option instead. I decided I would pursue my dreams after all. And best of all? The love of my life is in the exact same frame of mind as me, so we’re off around the world together.

As you can probably guess, I’m going to document the whole experience. I want to write about travelling from the point of view of someone who, in reality, isn’t particularly carefree. Someone who struggles with change, who feels anxious without a plan and who wears a full face of makeup every day. Someone who over-thinks everything, is a massive perfectionist, and often likes to be alone. Someone who recently went through a phase of feeling constantly scared and worried about quite literally everything.

Not your typical criteria for a free-spirit backpacker, and not at all how I come across to other people (I hope). These are all things that I generally keep to myself, but have started to confront in various ways. Being open about these incredibly common challenges over the last few months has taught me one major thing: you can change the way you think. What better opportunity to push yourself to the limit than to expose yourself to completely different beliefs, attitudes, cultures, histories, societies, weather… And what better opportunity for a writer?

I often feel like the reason I’ve become preoccupied with what’s going on inside my head is because I’ve forgotten how to utilize my time. Doing the same old job and having the same routine every day can leave big gaps in your mental capacity, gaps I seem to have filled with worrying about unimportant things, like how many Instagram followers I have, or what colour shellac I want next. In a nutshell, I want to care less about superficial rubbish, and much, much more about what’s important. These ‘important’ things, I hope and pray, will materialise somewhere along the way. And if go away to realise that I just want my old life back, that’s totally fine too.

Aside from doing a stereotypical bit of soul searching, I also hate how ignorant I am of how other people live. The only times I’ve travelled outside of Europe I’ve stayed in super-luxurious resorts, which I find quite embarrassing. I want to be able to read the news and associate and empathise more deeply with what’s going on. Another huge factor is that I’m wary of how incredibly dependent I’ve become on material things. Living out of a single bag for 6 months ought to teach me a thing or two about what I actually need in life. I’m already 99% it won’t be the Smashbox primer I wouldn’t dream of foregoing right now. It costs £25. I wonder what £25 will buy me in Cambodia.

Aside from all of this, I just want to have fun. Like, constant fun. With my boyfriend. For 6 months. Who the hell wouldn’t? And then when I get home, I promise to put the whole experience to good use. That’s fair, right? I know how privileged I am to be able to up and leave my life for a bit. I’ve worked hard and saved to be able to do this, so I’m determined to make it count in a way that I probably wouldn’t have a few years ago. Plus, I still want to be a writer, and I’ll be doing much more of that in my own time, instead writing about the same boring crap at work every day. Right now, I would rather write about Japanese culture for free than get paid to write about dressing gowns. And I can say that because a) I’m still young and stupid enough not to care and b) I have zero responsibilities.

I will always have an uncontrollable urge to write and tell stories, and I think travel goes hand in hand with that. That doesn’t mean I’m not completely TERRIFIED. If you have ANY tips, suggestions or words of advice for a first-time traveller, please, please, please comment below because I’d love to hear them.

But for now… WOOHOOOO!

 

Lesson 27: turning 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson 25: believing in yourself

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The trick?
Believe in yourself,
But don’t believe everything you think.

As some of you might know, I’m currently receiving CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). It’s not something I’m at all ashamed of, so I don’t mind touching on it from time to time. I find it all quite fascinating. I’m not cleanliness-obsessed and I don’t struggle to go about my day if things aren’t arranged a certain way, but I’ve been diagnosed with OCD based on the way I interpret things.

Everyone has weird thoughts from time to time. Like, really weird. Thoughts that make you think ‘where the bloody hell did THAT come from?’ They might be angry, inappropriate, sad, sexual, scary, hopeful, or just plain mental. Thoughts that have the potential to trigger an emotional response. It wasn’t until I started having CBT that I realised just how much meaning I was applying to these unplanned, intrusive imaginings. The more meaning I applied, the scarier and scarier they turned, and the line between my thoughts and reality started to blur. I felt like I was having premonitions, jumping to the worse-case scenario at the tiniest things. I thought I had just developed some sort of anxiety disorder out of nowhere, when really I had let the controlling OCD voice in my head get too loud. It’s very similar to the one that says ‘don’t walk under a ladder, it’s bad luck’, only more exaggerated: ‘don’t open the front door, someone will murder you with an axe.’ When you actually start believing that voice, it is terrifying, let me tell you.

The worse thing about OCD is that it feels like a comfort, like something is keeping you safe and allowing you to have full control of a situation. When in reality, it’s controlling you. So many mental afflictions provoke the same response – trying to claim complete control over your mind and body, only to find that the illness dictates everything you do, robbing you of any autonomy.

At first I felt quite guilty receiving the therapy. I’m not that bad, I thought. And I’m not, but week after week I’ve been confronted with just how much belief I’ve had in the power of my imagination. Last month at work, I was told I would find out on 22nd July whether I would be promoted. On 15th July in therapy, I was asked to write this on a piece of paper:

‘Something bad will happen this week.’

It sounds ridiculous, but I felt so angry with the therapist for ‘tempting fate’ the week before my potential promotion. I convinced myself it wouldn’t happen, and that some other awful thing would happen that week as well. Interestingly enough, the people I’ve shared this story with, who don’t have OCD, have said they would also have struggled to write this down for fear of it coming true. It’s exaggerated superstition; a personal religion that sometimes gets out of hand. It’s as old as humanity itself.

On 22nd July, I’m incredibly pleased to say I was promoted to Senior Writer at The White Company. I don’t know what made me happier and more relieved; the promotion or the fact the therapist was right – my thoughts really do have no effect on reality. It’s an easy, uplifting lesson to have learned. The real test would have been if the promotion hadn’t happened – to then learn to accept that what I wrote on a piece of paper was completely unrelated, just an unfortunate coincidence.

The way I see it, I’m pretty lucky to have been given the opportunity to learn more about how the brain works and fine-tune my thoughts with the help of an expert. As much as we all like to moan about the NHS, it’s actually kind of amazing that CBT is a free service to people who need it, despite the lengthy waiting list. If you feel like this might be something you’d benefit from, ask your doctor to refer you and don’t be ashamed to speak up.

I feel so much more relaxed simply letting the things beyond my control happen. It’s liberating. More to the point, I hope the fact I’ve been able to carry on as normal – continuing to work hard and be sociable despite feeling constantly anxious – encourages other people to believe in themselves no matter what. Ignore the negative thoughts and power-on through. Good or bad things won’t happen because we will them to with our minds. The mind is a powerful thing, but the only thing it can control is your thoughts. The rest is up to you.

 

 

 

Lesson 21: feeling inspired for life

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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.