New Horizons

I alluded in a previous post that it hadn’t been the easiest start to the year. For various reasons it’s felt as if things have been in a state of limbo, and the planner in me has found this hard to handle. But one thing that is very much pressing ahead – whether I like it or not – is my Masters degree in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology, which I am undertaking alongside my full time job on a part time, distance learning basis with the University of East London.

For years since graduating from my original Psychology degree (in 2002 – scary) I have had an itch to return to psychology. I’m pretty sure my friends and family thought it was a ‘grass is greener’ situation, and at times I thought the same, but something kept making my mind return to the idea. And now, almost fifteen years later (better late than never), here I am, enrolled on an MSc and already four days in.

I won’t lie, it’s terrifying. All the old feelings of inadequacy have already begun to surface, and I find myself thinking ‘I can’t do this’ and ‘Everyone else is going to be better’ at least ten times a day. But, at a deeper level, there’s excitement; a spark has been ignited after years of being dormant and it’s filling me with hope for the future. I’m older (a lot), wiser (a bit) and ready to give this everything I’ve got.

It’s not going to be easy. The social butterfly in me is already pining for fun nights out and carefree weekends. But this is important. It’s my chance to see if I’ve been right to harbour this longing; if I’ve really got what it takes to succeed in this field. If I wasn’t scared alarm bells would be ringing. That’s how I know I’m on the right track.

My first term module is coaching, and already I’m expected to be recruiting coachees (more info on that here), which is sending my imposter syndrome into overdrive. At the same time, I’m feeling a healthy curiosity about my ability to coach, how quickly I’ll pick up the skills and how much of a rapport I will build with my coachees.

Ultimately, what excites me the most is that this could put me on a totally different career path. Hopefully soon the limbo phase will be behind me once and for all.

 

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Ten Things About Me (Revised Bio)

Inspired by the friend who I call my ‘spiritual twin’ (you know who you are), I have updated my bio with ten things about me:

1. I want to write but rarely do it. This tortures me daily, and, unless I seek to remedy it by writing more often, will continue to torture me until my dying day.

2. I worry: about hate, about greed, about selfishness, about the state of the world my (God willing) children will inherit. I worry about what people think of me. I worry that this makes me shallow. I worry about things happening to my loved ones. I worry how I would cope. I worry that this makes me selfish. I worry that worrying will send me to an early grave. But I’m so good at worrying that I also wonder what I would do if I wasn’t worrying. Probably more writing (see point 1)….Oh.

3. I see myself as two people (though, as far as I am aware, I am not technically schizophrenic): a) the fancy dress loving party girl, who loves nothing more than having fun with her friends, because she has seen through her own experiences that life is short, so why not enjoy the ride? b) the more serious and reflective person who wants to learn and to help people and to find her higher purpose (I suspect it is also she who really, really wants to write). Sometimes these sides are conflicting. Fortunately they are in total agreement when it comes to chocolate, red wine and travel.

4. I don’t see myself as an ardent feminist, but the older I get the more frustrated I feel by the societal view of women and ageing. Having just hit the metabolically displeasing age of 35 (now officially past it according to the massive wankflap that is Donald Trump, as well as virtually every media outlet on the planet, whether they overtly state it or not) I hate the fact I am made (and have let myself be manipulated) to feel that my fertility is now teetering on the edge of a clifftop free fall, and that even if I do negotiate this rocky march towards infertility and manage a miracle procreation, my usefulness as a financially solvent career woman will be over, seeing as having a baby in your mid to late thirties is pretty much akin to career suicide. It’s enough to make you want to drown yourself in a vat of wine (hence why I often don a wig and do just that – see point 3a).

5. The older I get, the more I realise that you are never too old to love drum and bass (whether you are ever too old to publicly dance to drum and bass is an issue I am currently grappling with). Ditto UK garage. I will never be ashamed of these two great loves. Never.

6. Speaking of great loves, I have two: my husband, who (sickening as it is) completes me, and Leonardo DiCaprio, whom I have loved since I first laid eyes on him as Romeo to Kate Winslet’s Juliet, and will love until my dying day (likewise the husband, all being well). As much as I like Kate Winslet, I will never forgive her for leaving him on that door. There was definitely room for two.

7. I am riddled with self doubt, and have a serious case of imposter syndrome, particularly in relation to my fourteen year communications career. I have never understood how anyone could deem me capable of running their campaigns. The lack of complaints would suggest I haven’t made a total balls up of it so far. But there’s still time.

8. Infinity and death frighten me senseless. I can’t even talk about the universe without breaking into a sweat. I need to believe in life after death because death CANNOT be the end. I should probably have some (more) counselling to address these issues.

9. If procrastination were an Olympic sport, I would win Gold, Silver and Bronze (to give an example, I sat down an hour ago to work on my new novel, and instead have been updating this bio. I refer you to point 1. Sigh).

10. I make more lists than Buzzfeed. When I die, besides having Oasis’s Champagne Supernova played at my funeral (deep breaths – see point 8), I should probably have a To Do list inscribed on my headstone for when I reach the other side…

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Rejecting Stasis and Embracing Change

sta·sis

  1. motionless state: a state in which there is neither motion nor development, often resulting from opposing forces balancing each other
  2. state of no change: a state in which there is little or no apparent change in a species of organism over a long period of time.

“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” – Harold Wilson

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” – Henri Bergson

As you might have guessed from the above definition and quotes, in recent days I’ve been ruminating on the nature of change. This is, I suppose, unsurprising given that my immediate friendship groups are currently undergoing a lot of it. Some people have had babies, others are moving abroad, and it’s all a bit, well, unsettling if I’m honest. Which is only natural. If we weren’t scared of change we’d be robots. Anything that alters the comfortable stasis of our lives is inevitably going to wobble our foundations a little. But surely being wobbled is a good thing?

I’ve always said my greatest fear in life (besides being attacked by a shark or waking up with a tarantula on my face – those two remain the greatest fears of all) is waking up one day and realising I’ve been doing the same thing for the past twenty years. Why? Because there is SO much to DO in this world; so many places to live, so many jobs to try, so many hobbies to take up. Why wouldn’t we take every opportunity that’s offered to us? Why not make the most of every moment? It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut, to fall into a career that doesn’t grab you and to follow that trajectory to the grave. Making fundamental changes IS terrifying, but sometimes it’s the only way to pull ourselves out of the slough of despond so many of us reside in for our entire adult lives. As Mark Twain said, “twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did.” I don’t want to look back on my life with regrets about the things I didn’t do. And whilst change does scare me, I’m determined not to let it hold me back.

I’m also determined to stop worrying about the effect of change on my relationships. Just because a person moves away doesn’t mean your friendship will die. If they’re a good enough friend in the first place, that relationship will thrive no matter where you are. Sure, you might see or talk to that person less, but that just means it’s all the more important to make the times you do see and speak to them count.

Life is too short to spend worrying about change and what other people think. Life is for living. And, one way or another, that’s exactly what I intend to do.

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The Personal Touch

I’ve just got back into the office after an exciting awards ceremony that I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to disclose further information about until tomorrow – but suffice to say it’s very positive for the charity I work for and will hopefully provide us with leverage to a higher platform of media awareness.

It’s exhausting spending hours waxing lyrical about what your organisation does, but it’s also immensely satisfying, and it’s reminded me of the importance of establishing face to face contact with people instead of always relying on email introductions and social media to do the job. No form of online contact can ever match the effectiveness of face to face interaction, but sadly in our ever-more isolating technological world we are all too often resorting to anything but that mode of communication.

Much as I hate to wax lyrical about ‘when I was young’ (not least because it makes me feel, at the age of 32, positively ancient), there is a hugely notable difference between what it was like to be a teenager then and what it’s like now. I remember signing up to rudimentary chat rooms and carrying around a mobile phone the size of a brick solely to put my mother’s mind at rest, but back then Facebook was but a seed germinating in Mark Zuckerberg’s brilliant mind, and the concept of instant messaging my friends instead of calling their family homes to organise meeting up under Carfax Tower in Oxford on a Saturday afternoon was unthinkable.

Times have changed so much since my childhood and society is, as it always does, adapting. On the whole I am an advocate of social media (I use it enough in my personal life, how could I not be?), but today has reinforced the importance of occasionally reverting to more old fashioned methods. Embracing change is all well and good, but sometimes the old ways really are the best.

The Leader

Today I’m going to write about the people I’ve encountered on my career trajectory who have made a lasting impact on my life. Those people may not know it but they have inspired me more than they could reasonably surmise. They don’t think they could lead an army into battle and yet they underestimate the force of enthusiasm that they leave in their wake. They have a ready army of soldiers that is beyond prepared to fight, a troop who feel the force for good far exceeds any argument for bad and who will not stop until their dream is realised in which ever form it takes. What they lack in confidence they make up for in realism and integrity, they will never lack in either of these qualities. The only thing they lack is faith in their abilities to succeed, to lead the pack in a direction that hitherto was unthought of. These people are traditional in their inauguration yet the juices of their conscience run clear. They are respected, revered, celebrated and distinguished. They will not cease in their pursuit of what is right, nor will they compromise the view that they have formed of the world in favour of a lesser view that is wrong. They will lead. They will succeed. They are the Leaders.

Why I will (sadly) never play the Dane

This may well be my time of the month talking (they don’t call it ‘The Curse’ for nothing, boys. Sorry, too much information), but over the past couple of days I’ve found myself musing on the nature of ambition and, well, wondering how it is that somewhere along the way I managed to lose mine. Don’t get me wrong, I still have crazy dreams of writing a best-selling novel and retiring by the age of forty (forty five at a push) with millions in the bank. But back in the real world – the one where I have to work to earn money to put a roof over my head, avoid starvation and so forth – as my best friends forge ahead with their careers, so my drive to excel in the field in which I work has all but dried up.

Thinking back I’m not sure I ever was enormously ambitious in a wanting-to-set-up-my-own-company-and-be-a-CEO sort of way. I just had a quiet confidence that I would eventually establish a niche for myself and be happy. And, after a few blips along the way, I’m glad to report the happiness part is very much a feature of my life as it is today. The niche, however, has very much still to be carved and, much as I try to deny it, this is much to my chagrin.

There was, a few years back, a moment when I stood (metaphorically speaking) at a fork in the road and surveyed my options. The road on the left would take me further along the corporate path I was treading, with higher financial rewards but, in return, higher personal sacrifice. The road on the right would see me take an altogether more altruistic journey. Of course my moral compass won out and, on the whole, I don’t regret my decision. Working in the charity sector has its rewards – how many people can honestly say they care about what they do? – but it’s not without its limitations.

Next week I’ll turn thirty two – gulp – and yet I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up, not really. What I do know, with depressing clarity, is how Montague Withnail felt when he said the following:

“It is the most shattering experience of a young man’s life, when one morning he awakes, and quite reasonably says to himself: I will never play the Dane.”

Essentials Psychosynthesis – Day Three

After the difficult afternoon and evening I had on my Psychosynthesis course yesterday I found it impossible to switch my brain off until 3am this morning. I was worried (there goes my inner worrier) that this would mean today would be a struggle, but whilst I have felt tired I’ve also felt incredibly uplifted.

In part this was because the course material touched less of a nerve today, focusing on the concepts of “I” and “Will” rather than the lower unconscious which deals with the past. But it was also due to the rapport I feel we’ve developed as a group, which has been so overwhelmingly supportive.  We’ve all – without exception – touched on enormously sensitive issues in our individual therapy sessions (all of which were “observed” by other members of the group) and it’s surprised me how comfortable and comforted we’ve all felt by one another’s presence.

Observing this evening’s therapy sessions was a particularly uplifting experience. It’s such an incredible privilege having the opportunity to bear witness to the inner workings of someone else’s mind and gain an insight into who they really are – warts and all. I have to admit today has really got me wondering if being a psychotherapist is something I might be good at – I have such great respect for the therapists I’ve observed and I’m keen to find out more about this life as an alternative (or even complementary to my career) life path.

The past few days have been a rollercoaster and whilst I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every minute, exactly, I can say it’s been fascinating, absorbing and emotionally enriching in the extreme.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Tomorrow’s my first official day as a freelancer and I’m excited. I’ve set up a morning meeting with an agency contact who might need to outsource some PR, and will be spending the rest of the day working on a commission for a man whose garden shed product I’m managing the PR launch for. In between those jobs I’m also planning to start working through the exercises in my book on how to pitch feature ideas to publications, and am also keen to start planning out characters and a plot for a new story that’s starting to take shape in my mind. Then on Tuesday I’ll be kicking off week two of the new job by planning a PR strategy. In short, I’m going to be a busy bee!

The past few months have been frustrating career wise but I’ve learned some valuable lessons that I’ll put into practice going forward. It’s scary but exciting to go from being one of many communications professionals to the only one; there’s no one to hide behind and if I don’t deliver it’s my head on the block and nobody else’s. But I’ve always thrived on pressure and now have the autonomy I’ve been craving for a long time-both in my main employment and my fledgling freelance career. I’m determined to succeed – because failure just isn’t an option.

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I love the quotes the station staff put up at Clapham North station. This one was taken a while back but is particularly appropriate for today’s post.

The write read

It’s a well-known fact that, for the most part, writing doesn’t pay. Or at least it doesn’t pay until you make it big, though you might be surprised by how few authors ever reach the heady heights of JK Rowling’s wealth, despite being on the best seller lists for weeks on end.

So what do aspiring writers do to make ends meet? Some sacrifice luxury and get a part time job in a cafe, devoting the rest of their time to writing in the hope they’ll have that much needed break and be catapulted out of their Hackney bedsit into a Hollywood condo.

Others, like myself, who have fallen into a relatively comfortable way of living and aren’t keen to suffer for their art to quite the extent of living below the poverty line, get a full time job. Days, therefore, are spent in an office, doing someone else’s bidding for eight hours or more at a time, and nights are spent trying to fit writing in amongst the other many competing priorities.

But I’m not complaining, and nor should anyone who is serious about making it as a writer, because if writing is your passion it shouldn’t be difficult to make time for it. What can be a problem for the aspiring writer, however, is what they choose to sacrifice to make time for their writing. In my case, I’ve realised that what’s all too often being sacrificed is reading.

I take my Kindle to work every day, but on the journey there often struggle not to be distracted by the free newspapers. I therefore spend the duration engrossed in the latest drama in Rihanna’s love life instead of making a start on the latest Booker Prize-nominated tome I’ve downloaded.

Before conceiving my 365 day writing challenge I would at least spend the return journey reading a good book, but in recent weeks even those few precious snatched minutes have been compromised, as I’ve spent them drafting that day’s blog post. What this means is that although I am now (at long last) writing regularly, when it comes to reading I’m not getting much further than the odd sensationalist tabloid press story – hardly inspirational stuff.

What’s troubling me is this: How can I even hope to be a good writer if I’m not seeing how it’s done by learning from the best? To use an analogy, imagine trying to ride a bike without seeing someone else do it first. It’s not that you couldn’t do it – if you had instructions you’d get there in the end – but the whole experience would be harder, and you might not end up cycling to the best of your ability.

The realisation that I’m not reading enough has made me see I need to reassess my priorities again; rather than substituting reading for writing I must make time for both, or risk my writing being so badly compromised that the heady heights of JK Rowling will always remain out of reach.

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This little badge represents me having completed my fourth National Novel Writing Month. It serves as a reminder of how important writing is to me – perhaps in light of today’s post I need a similar talisman for reading?

The path to dotage

It’s a depressing fact that my generation will be required to work well into what was, by previous generations, considered to be the dotage period of life. I for one am particularly aggrieved by this knowledge, because hand on heart I can’t say I have ever had a job that I have ‘loved.’ I’ve come close once or twice, but generally speaking ever since I left university I’ve been drifting from one job to another, each time hoping it would be the ‘dream job,’ each time being disappointed.

At times I have questioned whether the ‘dream job’ does, in fact, exist at all, but I believe for a lucky few it does. My best friend, for example, works long hours and is often dog tired, but she enjoys her job enormously and freely admits it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve only had one job that I could say I hated (with every fibre of my earthly being, but that’s another story that we won’t go into here). All the others have been good in some ways, but ultimately not fulfilling enough to stay. But maybe, as I say, such a phenomenon is rare, and those of us who aren’t blessed with the perfect job pairing in our lives should seek fulfilment elsewhere, through hobbies, volunteering and so forth.

One thing I have learned in the course of my ten year (has it really been that long?!) career is that it’s better to be too busy than too quiet. If you have to spend eight hours (and the rest) a day in a soulless, strip lit office, you may as well fill your hours as much as possible to make them go quicker. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING worse than being bored. And it’s just as well I feel that way, as this week most days I’ve  been in the office by 8am every day and haven’t seen daylight until gone 7pm, notching up an impressive 13+ hours of overtime.

Of course the downside of being rushed off your feet at work is that the days tend to just merge into one long round of waking before it’s light, commuting, frantically trying to plough through everything on the to do list, commuting back, eating, sleeping and getting up again.

But I shouldn’t complain. In the current financial climate I’m lucky to even HAVE a job, and the world of PR is a fickle beast – when I’m flat out busy it’s downright exhausting, but it’s also exhilarating when all the hard work of selling in a story pays dividends.

Nonetheless, I’d rather like to make my millions a la JK Rowling in the not too distant future, because the thought of spending the next 39 years with my nose to the grindstone, slogging my guts out for somebody else’s reward, just isn’t that appealing. And living in a beach hut in the Philippines, well, that really rather is…

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This photo was taken towards the end of my travels last year, whilst languishing on the private balcony of my friend’s 5* hotel room in Koh Tao, Thailand. I remember thinking as I lay there that my freedom was nearly at an end, and revelling in the twilight of what had been an amazing adventure. The book, The Beach, has always represented to me the ultimate freedom, a form of escapism (as reading itself is), and so when I look at this picture I feel somehow this is what I’m aspiring to get back to, if that makes any sense. It’s been a long week.