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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Lessons from 2016? Follow your heart.

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This time last year I was at an elephant sanctuary just south of Bangkok (WFFT), as far away from home as I’d ever been and with six whole months of barely planned travel ahead of me. Utter bliss.

Months before however, I’d gone through a strange, unexpected and terrifying phase of being scared of pretty much everything. OCD, they said. Which actually made perfect sense.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy teaches you how to realign your thoughts, but travel puts that theory into practice. The most important lesson I’ve learnt this year? To just bloody go with it. Like I always used to. To let go. To take things as they come. To trust in the order of events. Some things are beyond all control, and I’m so grateful I’ve learnt to believe that again.

Anyway, comfort zone well and truly out of sight, my dreams quite literally started to come true. The less I worried about all the stuff I couldn’t control, the happier and calmer I felt. My fears melted away one by one. With every new challenge I set, from white water rafting to trusting in perfect strangers, I remembered that risk-taking and relishing in fear makes you feel alive. Not checking the front door is locked 15 times a day. I went from hiding in my basement flat in Brixton to scuba diving with giant manta rays in Komodo.

I made myself vulnerable to the world, and it gave me everything I could wish for in return. Powdery beaches and crystal-blue water, magical sunsets, breathtaking views, powerful waterfalls, deliciously exciting food, new friendships, and being proposed to under the stars by the person I love. I swore to myself that I would never fear the world again.

And then halfway through our trip, I received the worst phone call of my life. My wonderful Grandad died. With hardly a week’s warning. We flew home for the funeral. Devastated in every way possible.

I could easily have reverted back to old habits. Blamed my grandad’s death on my “reckless” trust in life. When you have OCD you honestly feel like your thoughts have the power to affect reality. Like, if I’d just worried a little bit more, maybe nothing bad would have happened. But without the carefree living, none of the good stuff would have happened either. So I forced myself to carry on in my new-found frame of mind. To find the light in the dark. Life is nothing but a series of highs and lows, after all. You can’t have one without the other.

Whether it’s Trump, Brexit, the tragedies in Aleppo or the loss of yet another talented artist. 2016, like every year, has had its lows. I urge you to counter these awful things by being as actively positive as you can be, whether it’s persuing your goals, volunteering your time or loving someone unconditionally. Better yourself. That is the only way we can ever hope for a better world.

Flying back to Asia after the funeral was perhaps an even bigger turning point than travelling in the first place. Having faith in the face of heartbreak and grief is really bloody hard, but it will change how you feel about everything. Nothing can spur you on more than your own bravery, and nothing will reward you more. 2016, I will never forget you.

 

 

 

 

 

Like Her Type has been nominated for a Leibster award

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Like Her Type has been nominated for a Liebster award, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you so much to Rosie over at La Grenouille Anglaise for the incredibly thoughtful nomination and, of course, for taking the time to discover my blog. It means more than you might think.

I think about my blog pretty much every day. I write posts on my phone, I conjure up what to say in my head and how to build relatable stories around anecdotes and passing thoughts. The ideas come easily, so why have I stopped posting so much?

It’s a combination of things. Occasionally I worry that I’m sharing too much information. Plus my Macbook died a few months ago and posting on your phone has its issues. But mostly, I can’t seem to find the time at the moment (‘find’ it, like its lurking somewhere in a dark corner, covered in dust?) and I feel guilty every day when I go too long without posting. Like I’m failing someone I care about. And it’s purely because I love doing it. Not having time to do something you love is not ok.

And then Rosie nominated Like Her Type for a Liebster Award. It lifted my spirits to say the least. The Liebster Award was created so that emerging bloggers could help each other gain exposure and recognition.

Like Her Type is about connecting people through the life experiences we all share, turning them into valuable lessons that might help someone else in need of honest advice.

The Liebster award is built on connecting chains of bloggers. It serves as a reminder that there really is a “social” element to social media. One that helps people to connect on a personal, useful level that we often don’t experience face to face.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I contemplated giving up my blog because I feared I wasn’t connecting people in the way I hoped, and this incredibly thoughtful nomination proves otherwise.

A stranger read my thoughts and felt compelled to share with other strangers to benefit them in some small way. And that is kind of beautiful, isn’t it?

The Rules of The Liebster Award

1. Thank the person/blog who nominated you and post a link to their blog on your blog.
2. Display the award on your blog. This can be done by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a widget (note: the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog/post).
3. Answer the 10 questions about yourself that your nominating blogger chooses for you.
4. Nominate blogs that you feel deserve the award. These must be new bloggers (less than two years blogging) who have fewer than 1000 followers.
5. Create a list of questions for your nominated bloggers to answer.
6. List these rules in your post (feel free to cut & paste!)
7. Inform the blogs that you nominated that they have been awarded the award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it.

Question Time

Great questions Rosie – here are my answers.

Q: City break or countryside escape?

A: Oooohhh that’s actually a really tough question. Living in London, there comes a point every now and again that I crave fresh air and greenery. Like an environmental detox. There’s something incredibly humbling about staring at a powerful waterfall or the sun setting over a vast canyon or calm sea. You feel insignificant in the best way possible. The scale and wonder of nature often helps put worries and problems into perspective. It’s so important to switch off mentally every now and again and exploring a busy city simply doesn’t allow you to do that. However, once my batteries are recharged, I always welcome the excitement of a new city with open arms. Bright lights, bars, historical architecture, museums, great food, new cultures. The appeal of the city is often just as strong.

Q: Which country could you never tire of visiting?

A: Japan. Without a doubt. I was lucky enough to spend three weeks there in April this year and I cannot wait to go back. Japan is an astounding place to travel. The people, the culture, the history, the landscape, the buildings, THE FOOD, the nightlife, the authenticity, did I mention the food? If you’re after a culture shock, Japan is like nowhere I’ve ever encountered. Every day was an adventure. One moment we were lost in a labyrinth of bars in Tokyo’s Golden Gai, and the next we were looking for snow monkeys and skiing the Japanese Alps. I cannot recommend this mesmerising country enough.

Q: What’s your favourite dessert? (Because let’s face it, the last course is the best one).

It would probably be some sort of chocolate cake, with raspberries and cream. Oooo or apple crumble with loads and loads of custard.

Q: If you were your country’s Prime Minister/ President, what’s the first law you would pass?

I would propose a three-day weekend. I’m all about the work-life balance, and I think fours days on, three days off would work perfectly…

Q: Which holiday destination do you think is over-hyped?

Oh God, definitely Phi Phi in Thailand. Don’t get me wrong, I love a party, but give give me Ibiza over Phi Phi any day. Phi Phi is kind of fun, in a way that Magaluf is fun if you’re a 16-year-old boy, but it smells, ‘The Beach’ is a tourist trap, the food isn’t exactly Thailand’s finest and the bars are cheesy as hell. I’ve heard there are nice parts of Phi Phi, but if you’re travelling on a budget you’ll never find them.

The internet. Best or worst thing to happen to humanity?

Where is your “happy place” and why?

What inspires you to connect with strangers?

If you could travel back in time, where would you visit first?

What’s your biggest fear?

Her Poetry: Thief

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Thief

Pebbles ground up,

Around your neck,

As we lie in a twist

Of sea air

 

Forgotten myself

In the clasp of now

My face is a blur,

In my muddled up hair

 

The water creeps up

And bites at my feet

Is it cold?

It’s frozen, not there

 

My life in a box

Was wrenched from my side

I notice, too late

Do I care?

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.

Her Poetry: Cracks

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The cracks and gaps in the pavement,

Don’t tread on them or you’ll break,

That little voice in your scurrying mind,

It told you not to tempt fate.

Your body will split down the centre,

Casting half of you here and half of you there,

With your heart in the dirt,

And your brain in the air.

Each bone will snap and litter the ground,

If you admit that those cracks are there.

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.