Who do you look up to?

Beyonce

After a few recent conversations with journalists, PRs and friends, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about success, and specifically successful women – how they get there, and how they treat others once they’re there. I’ve started to think about who I look up to, too; thanks to a mixture of social media, my career progression and my many goals, it’s changing all the time, but one thing that remains constant is that I look to other women for my inspiration. What’s different, though, is that I used to see power, status or a job title as motivational, whereas now the women I aspire to be like are the ones who have got my back.

I grew up in a house full of women; with two sisters and my mum around me my poor dad barely got a say in anything (yes we will be keeping the kitten and can we please instruct you on how to move our bedroom around yet again?). I’ve always been a girl’s girl and aside from some light schoolgirl bickering it never occurred to me to compete with other girls – they were my friends, my sisters, my mentors, my idols. I wanted to be like every one of them and for them to want to be my friend too.

Working in the beauty industry, you get used to working with women; though my first job was in a place run by men in sharp suits, it was the women who managed the teams that I struck an instant bond with – supporting, motivating, understanding without an ounce of being patronising despite their broader experience, I’m proud to count them as some of my closest friends today and have relied on their advice and shared mine in times of stress at work and beyond. And beauty isn’t bitchy in the way that I expected it could be; sure, you get the odd person who likes themselves more than they like being nice to others but for the most part the beauty birds are made up of throughly good eggs.

It’s this that makes me love my work. I’ve met so many incredible women through it – thoughtful PRs, helpful interns, talented writers, inventive designers and smart editors, who without this career I might never have met. And girls may be girls, chatting and gossiping and sharing and conferring, but unlike school the ones you remember and look up to are not necessarily the coolest; not the prettiest or the most popular; not the ones with the most money, followers or the best wardrobe (though many have all of this and more, the sods). The women who stay in my mind and who I look forward to meeting again, or who I hope to work with one day if I don’t already are the kind ones, the smart ones, the ones who are generous with their time and who treat you as an equal. The ones who want to cheerlead your every accomplishment and buy you a glass of wine for your every disappointment.

Through Twitter and my job I’ve had the chance to meet and talk to women who have done just that – who’ve picked up the phone when I’m having a work wobble or who give their honest advice on everything from freelancing to half-hearted book ideas to this very blog. I can honestly say this is the most important thing I’ve learned in my career – to get ahead, you need support and to be supportive; from the intern at the bottom of the ladder who helps their team to nail a project to the editor who recommends that intern for their dream job.

We live in a time where comparison anxiety is rife; I have to remind myself daily to stop analysing my successes on the basis of others’, which is damn hard in this writing game where every day you hear of another person five years younger getting a book deal, or a job which you’re still working towards. No good can come of comparison, though, and frankly I’m happy to be the girl who works her ass off that nobody really knows, rather than the one who reached the top but who nobody wants to work with.

Social media doesn’t make this easy – we can all see a curated view of how someone is doing in their career and we all know it can cause jealousy, but on the flip side it’s also the place where we can champion each other’s achievements, recommend others and share what we learn as we go. It’s so true that the media and the opportunities within in it are very much about who you know… but that needn’t make it exclusive. You’ll never regret helping someone else out, be it with a contact or advice on their next pitch; and those you help will never forget that you did. Hopefully, they’ll follow your lead and will pay it forward next time someone needs that boost. That’s pretty inspiring in itself.

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Happy 10th birthday, Twitter

TwitterHappy birthday, Twitter. Today you turn 10 years old, and yet in even fewer years than that you have pretty much changed my life.

I joined in January 2009, my then boss telling me ‘it’s the new PR’ and having me take over our company handles while building my own.

From the moment I joined I found support from every which way; from the beauty bloggers who welcomed me with open arms and the women who’d reply at 3am when I was having an anxiety attack to the other writers, singletons and friends who’d respond quicker to random questions or thoughts than if I were to text a close friend. After a tough breakup, I even found the fun in talking to guys again, hidden behind my keyboard and getting excited every time I heard that Tweetdeck alert, dating someone who got to know me very quickly thanks to those 140 character posts. I met women who became my best friends, whose weddings I’ve been to, whose babies I’ve held, who I holiday with, who I couldn’t imagine not knowing now, seven years on, where one lives with another of my friends and another, the most generous person I’ve ever had the luck to meet, makes me laugh daily no matter what struggles we are both dealing with. I’ve met so many wonderful people through it that I’ve lost count.

I’ve made connections with people I came to cherish who I’ve then lost to the cruelty of depression, who I miss dearly even though we never met. I’ve found colleagues, from incredible interns and writers who came to help me in the midst of startup madness (and later became mentors and friends) to the team I’m in today, in a job I was offered after I loved the site so much I followed everyone that worked on it on Twitter just to be inspired, if nothing else.

I’ve shared my biggest moments with those few thousand people who inexplicably follow me, from losing my grandparents to gaining a nephew, winning awards to finding out my mum had the all clear from cancer. I’ve spoken with experts and editors in the beauty industry who, without Twitter, wouldn’t even know who I was let alone reply to my mini message of how much I loved their work. I have cried with laughter at the #whowillspeakforEngland hashtag and felt like part of a community when chatting along to #XFactor (the main thing I’ll miss when the show goes is the tweets). I’ve followed feminists who motivate me and learned the true horror of #everydaysexism, and watched the news unfold second by second during riots, terrorism attacks and when the story breaks of a childhood hero passing away. I honestly think my followers probably know me better than some of my closest real life friends; they read my thoughts, frustrations and comments in real time, with no filter or agenda – and I feel like I know them, even if we’ve never met and they perhaps don’t even follow me back.

It’s the first place I go for information, inspiration and conversation. The kindness of other tweeters is something you can’t even find on the likes of Facebook, where you’re friends with your real life friends. I have, if I can bring myself to use this hideous millennial word, found my ‘tribe’, and I’ll never forget nor stop talking to those early follows and followers who taught me so much and helped me find my way; but I’ll also continue to find new people, a new follow there and another follower here, because the tribe is ever growing. You just never know who you might chat to next, and for a shy girl from a tiny village like me that’s an exciting prospect. It might be their 10th birthday today, but Twitter for me is like one big, never-ending party, full of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet or talk to, whether it’s just in passing or as the start of a great friendship.

So here’s to the teenage years of Twitter – I can’t wait to see what happens next.

The modern girl’s to-do list

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The other night on the way home on a casual Monday, I wrote myself a little to do list for that evening. I’d been so busy at the weekend and at work that there was a ridiculous amount of life admin to do and for various reasons it really needed doing that night.

But as I wrote the list I realised how tedious it was that I had to fill my precious, short spare time with such ridiculous things. ‘Shower and dry hair’ even made it on there that night, as I usually leave it to dry by itself (to save time, natch) and obviously this looks rubbish come 7am so I wanted to put some effort in for a meeting. By the time I had finished writing the list I was feeling utterly deflated – off went my hopes of putting my feet up and getting stuck into my new book.

It got me thinking about just how much there is to DO as a woman in 2016. Having it all (or attempting to) has essentially become doing it all, and it’s bloody exhausting.

I’m not suggesting we all stop washing our hair. But at what point is something going to give? Time has become so tight, and as I’ve got older it’s the thing I’m starting to treasure the most; I resent having to use it on commutes and on people who don’t reciprocate their time back when you need it. Time is really all we have, it’s the thing money can’t buy and the thing we are all running out of. So why do we fill it with so much life admin?

Stylist recently reported on the stats that revealed the average 30-year-old woman has just 17 minutes a day to herself. While I’m not sure I’m quite as time-poor as that, it’s not much better – the first 12 hours of my waking day go to commuting and work, which leaves me with about four hours to play with before I’m desperate for sleep. At least half of that goes on the aforementioned life admin, or something else that I feel I ‘should’ be doing.

Here’s everything I could think of that, as a single woman in 2016, I have on my to-do list:

  • Watch must-watch TV (on catchup, because who ever gets home on time for it all?)
  • Check online dating apps, bang head against wall, repeat
  • Go on dates if previous point is successful; most likely waste an evening on someone you’ll never see again
  • Read books, magazines and articles by all the brilliant people you follow on Twitter (this could easily be a full time job)
  • Blog (I try)
  • Have a hobby (it helps with the online dating chat, plus makes you a bit cooler these days)
  • Paint nails, go for a wax and other general beauty things (as a beauty journalist, this really has to happen)
  • Shower (yep, this has to go on the list now)
  • Food shop (worst thing on the list)
  • Cook (wait, no, this is the worst thing on the list)
  • Have actual chat with flatmates that isn’t just ‘Hi, I’m tired’
  • Chat to family so they remember you exist
  • Reply to 278 Whatsapp messages, 5 texts, 33 Facebook notifications and 18 messages on Facebook Messenger (why does it have to be a different app?!)
  • All the emails, all the time, on three different accounts
  • Wash clothes in order to attempt fabulous work outfits
  • Shop for clothes that I don’t hate
  • Return clothes that you inevitably do hate
  • Work out (HAHAHA)
  • Do the washing up (there is so much of it. Where does it come from? I don’t even like cooking?)
  • Keep an eye on finances and make mental note to get buses more when you see how many Ubers you’ve booked lately
  • Catch up with friends who are all in different groups and work different hours just to make it extra fun
  • Sleep (remember that?)
  • Look up, every so often. Tech neck is a bitch

So without sounding whiney… what about me? As it’s my 30th year (yup, I’m going to take the whole year) I’m trying to give myself a break, be a little more selfish and do a little more of what I love – without, hopefully, pissing anyone off. After last year’s health scare in my family and nearly 8 exciting years of working my arse off in startups, I need to focus on spending my time on making myself feel better, being with the people I love and generally be a better person.

Because doing it all won’t make us the best we can be – it’ll make us the most exhausted, and probably the most grumpy versions of ourselves. Don’t get me wrong; I love to say yes to things, to keep busy (my mum always says of me when I was a child: ‘You were very… busy, all the time, always doing something’) and to share those experiences with others. After all, we might not have much time, but we’ll only have it once, so I’m all for making the most of it.

But I’d also love to read all those books stacked up on my bookshelves, to write more, to walk around London more without being in a rush, to not waste my weekends ticking off that admin list in the bank or the Post Office, and just generally to ‘be’. To have time that doesn’t feel like it’s already assigned to something I’m obligated to do. Now *that* is something I’m putting on my to-do list. Who’s with me?

 

Why my best Valentine’s Days have been when I’m single

Sex and the City Valentine

I kind of feel about Valentine’s Day the way that other people feel about New Year’s Eve – a bit too much effort, never as good as you hope and not really worth the bother. (I will never understand why people feel this about NYE – it’s an excuse to go dancing and partying with people you love, with a bonus free day off the next day – why on earth would you not want that?!)

This Valentine’s Day though, it seemed like everyone, whether single or coupled up, was making more of a big deal of it. It’s not that the shops were unbearably full with it (possibly even less so, this year) but more that people were actually asking others what their plans were, and making some of their own as if it was a real holiday to be celebrated.

Single or otherwise, I’ve never felt the need to even acknowledge it, but convention kind of means that if you’re a couple you’re supposed to mark it somehow. And that’s why this weekend, as a singleton, I got to thinking about what I would have been doing had I been with someone, and it made me realise: I’ve never had a great Valentine’s Day as a non-single. Not in a, get-the-violins-out-I’m-so-unlucky kind of way, but it made me see that a) I’m quite pleased not to be with someone for this ramped up 2016 version and b) if I wasn’t, I certainly wouldn’t be making plans other than maybe a takeaway and a DVD (piss off with your ‘Netflix and chill’, I’m old school).

In fact, it’s not so much that the years where I was with someone were bad (though they generally involved overpriced meals in horrid restaurants, severe anxiety because of the general pressure of it and occasionally, mild food poisoning), but actually that the single ones were just SO damn good.

I’ve got some brilliant friends, luckily, and from the time that a few of us went to a dating event in which a topless man and woman served us cocktails in little more than a thong to the night where we all went bowling and drank quite a lot of cocktails which makes it quite hard to throw straight, my single Valentine’s Days have been an absolute hoot.

This year was slightly less exciting – I stayed in, settled on the sofa with copious amounts of tea and a brilliant film (Ex Machina, highly recommend). I suppose company would have been nice, but there’s something wonderful about not having to please anyone but yourself for a whole day. Someone corny would call it self-love or something equally hippy-ish, but to me, that’s just a perfect Sunday. Same time next week, hopefully…

The alternative 30 before 30 list

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In three short days I will turn 30, and so I have just deleted the ’30 before 30′ list I optimistically wrote on my phone last year because frankly my heart was never in it and I only ticked off one thing. But do I feel bad? Not really. There’s plenty I could have done, but who says I have to do it before Tuesday? It’s just a Tuesday, when you think about it.

It got me thinking about everything I *have* done, though. Glass half full and all that. And I think I’ve done OK, all things considered. So here’s my alternative 30 before 30 list – what’s on yours?

Before I turned 30, I…

  1. Went to Disneyland as an adult and screamed on a log flume like a child
  2. Actually got into the career I wanted
  3. Won an award for my work in the career I wanted
  4. Went to a real festival and survived, just
  5. Camped in a heatwave and a thunderstorm. Yeah, I won’t be doing that again
  6. Got a First and threw my hat in the air like a proper cliché
  7. Became an auntie 3 times. Totally taking credit. I’m an awesome aunt
  8. Went on a flight by myself (this is a BIG deal for me, and it was horrid)
  9. Had a mini holiday romance
  10. Swam with dolphins (OK it was more standing than swimming but one has to be sensible when one can’t swim)
  11. Went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, twice, without fainting or falling off
  12. Climbed Arthur’s Seat, in sandals. It was terrible
  13. Was a maid of honour for someone completely awesome
  14. Went to a sex museum in Amsterdam. That was weird
  15. Partied all night in Ibiza (quite a few times, actually)
  16. Got drunk at Vogue with my best friends
  17. Wrote my name along with my first boyfriend’s on the wall in Verona by Juliet’s balcony
  18. Sang along to the actual Backstreet Boys in Hyde Park
  19. Learnt to drive. Not that well, mind
  20. Partied in a gay bar in Berlin
  21. Snorkelled. I may have been a bit blind but I saw some stuff and didn’t drown
  22. Saw Beyonce live. May have cried a bit
  23. Saw Five live and fell in love with Scott all over again despite not being a teenager anymore
  24. Sat within a few feet of an actual real lion as it played with a ball
  25. Could actually say ‘I’m with the band’ as we sat on A’s tour bus and had a little chat in Newquay, aged 18
  26. Read a LOT of good books. I’m practically Matilda
  27. Wore glitter at every appropriate opportunity
  28. Rode in a tuk-tuk (I’ve always wanted to do that)
  29. Learned Spanish. Well, some Spanish. And then forgot most of it but at least I tried
  30. Found the kind of friends that make everything better, and who made a lot of the above happen…

What’s on yours?

Image – someecards.com

Goodbye, 2015

Don't Look Back

Unfortunately, being a thinky Capricorn, I am one of those people who tends to get a little sentimental at New Year. It’s a bad habit of mine to look back, often, and of course as the year comes to a close and everyone lists the brilliant things they’ve achieved and their plans for the following 12 months, I’m all the more prone to too much reflection. But the truth is that 2015 kicked my butt so much that I’ve been avoiding looking back at all.

This morning as I woke in a post-NYE celebration haze, I actually felt relief when it dawned on me that 2016 was here. I know nothing has essentially changed in the past 24 hours, but it still feels like a new chance, a new start, and as silly as it sounds, like the pain of 2015 is finally behind me.  Which is perhaps why I now feel able to write about it.

As briefly mentioned in my last post, the last half of 2015 was kind of a disaster.

One Friday in September I got the phone call that I’ve been dreading my whole life: my mum had been diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t even know she’d been to see a doctor.

The moment I heard that word, that evil, bastard word, my world fell apart. And there really is nothing to say, nothing that anyone else can say, when something like this happens to someone you love. No words seem enough, and no words come when you feel like you have so much you should say. No words of kindness are big enough, no matter how lovely the intention. Nothing matters. My brain went to sleep, all except for four words which repeated on a cycle for days, weeks: my mum has cancer. Those, and ‘but what if…’, which are the most dangerous of thoughts for a fragile mind, and ones which kept me awake night after night.

Cancer was suddenly everywhere; I was reading about it everywhere I looked, everyone I saw knew someone going through it or had a story to tell or questions to ask, every advert seemed to be for cancer charities, every soap had a cancer storyline. It took over my life. I was overflowing with fear and anxiety yet completely numb at the same time.

But the thing is, and what I have to remind myself every day, is that we were lucky. We were so, so lucky. It was cancer of the womb, and two weeks later she was to have a hysterectomy to remove the lot. The surgeon practically guaranteed that everything was going to be fine (or at least that’s what my wonderful, brave, strong mum told me over and over). I was still an absolute wreck, of course, especially on the day of the op. But then we had another phone call – the one saying she was OK. My dad and I cried with relief and hugged, properly, for the first time since I was a child. We visited her in hospital as soon as we were allowed and her main concern was her eyelashes.

From start to finish, the whole ordeal was just a matter of weeks, from the diagnosis to the all clear. Two life-changing phone calls. It feels like a bad dream, and yet so real and so raw that the fear of it still plagues my mind on a daily basis. It pushed me to my limits and then some; but I’m also so grateful at the outcome we were blessed with, and can’t quite believe it’s really over. But it is. And, happily, so is 2015. I’ll never forget it, but unlike previous New Year’s Days I’m not going to spend too much time analysing it either.

So here’s to 2016, good health, and looking forward for a change. The view is better that way.

 

Find out more about this type of cancer here

Image: Heart and Willow Prints. Print available to buy on Etsy here

When a plan comes together… and then everything falls apart

New home

So, it’s been a while. That big decision I was making was where to live, and whether it was fate, falling into it or gut instinct I’m not sure, but I found a house and went with it. I’m not sure it was entirely thought through, but it all slotted into place; the new area and house just clicked. Of course nothing is that simple and moving is the worst thing ever thanks to a thing known as estate agents – seriously, are they trained by the devil or something? – but nevertheless we moved in and I’m back in a beautiful part of south London. Hurrah.

For the best part of six months I’d been putting off any other decisions, plans or ideas until ‘after the move’ because it was stressful and taking up 95% of my brain at any one time. Everything was to happen ‘after the move’ because things would be simple and easy by then, right? Ha.

In the midst of moving, my work life (i.e. the only solid constant in my life, bring out the tiny violin) kind of… exploded. We also moved office on the same day that I moved house. I do not recommend this. Then I went on holiday (I do recommend this but not less than a week after you’ve moved), came back and not long after I had the most devastating news of my life so far (I’ll explain later). This sent me into a weird, not-really-there kind of stupor for what seemed like an eternity until I then heard the best news of my life: that everything was ok. Er, then I got ill and I’ve been back in a fog of brain-fail ever since.

So all those things I was going to do and sort out in the second half of 2015 haven’t happened. I can barely string a thought together (or a sentence, as this post probably shows), never mind an idea. The thing is, life doesn’t take a break while you get your shit together, no matter how much you want it to. The saying ‘life is what happens while you’re making other plans’ or however it goes is just as applicable when you’re not, er, planning.

Time kept ticking and now I have less than two months until my 30th birthday, and what I thought was going to be a monumental final year of my twenties has not only been rubbish but has rushed by so fast that I’m not even sure I was there for half of it. It’s no wonder the mindfulness movement is in full swing; being in the present instead of thinking about the future is underrated…